On Monday the Pensacola News Journal ran a piece by the national columnist Susan Estrich titled “Sometimes lawsuits are just plain idiotic.” Unfortunately, she started her column with the following: “Sadly, the idiotic suits—against McDonalds because the coffee was too hot, or against the dry cleaner who supposedly ruined a lawyer’s suit (and offered to pay for it, before getting sued)—get more attention than the vast majority of cases filed because of legitimate disputes.”
While she may have a point about the apparent frivolousness of the dry cleaning lawsuit, it is unfortunate to see a columnist with such stature as Estrich point to the now infamous McDonalds lawsuit as an example of out of control litigation. Using the McDonalds lawsuit to make that argument is simply wrong and misinformed. Anyone wanting to know the full story behind that lawsuit—and how it is actually an excellent example of our civil justice system’s importance to the everyday American—the recent HBO documentary “Hot Coffee” is a good place to start.
Hot Coffee is a documentary that set out to explore our civil justice system, why it has been under attack for the last few decades and whether those attacks are warranted. The McDonalds hot coffee lawsuit is one of the most well-known lawsuits in our country’s history and for many people it has become nearly synonymous with a broken justice system. Yet this documentary forces the viewer to think whether that is really true, and in the process raises a series of questions that anyone interested in protecting and improving our civil justice system should consider.
Hot Coffee is a great film for generating healthy, factually-based public debate about civil justice in our country. It’s a shame that before writing her column, Estrich didn’t appear to have seen the film and instead contributed to the misinformation that already surrounds the McDonalds litigation. Thankfully, the documentary Hot Coffee is helping to set the record straight. With DVDs available on November 1, anyone with an interest in this important public issue has an opportunity to become informed.