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HBO Worth Watching: “Hot Coffee”

June 27, 2011

Most people have been pretty excited about the finale of Game of Thrones and the first episode of True Blood but that’s not the only thing good this week on HBO. The documentary “Hot Coffee” premiered tonight and it tells a moving and important story about the corporate campaign for “tort reform” in America. The film recounts four real-life examples – the McDonald’s hot coffee case, a medical malpractice cap that left a family in Nebraska struggling to care for their wrongly injured son, a Mississipi Supreme Court Justice driven from office by out-of-state corporate money, and a 19-year-old girl who was raped by Halliburton contractors in Iraq – to highlight ways in which tort reform has unjustly tilted the courts against individual plaintiffs.

In a certain way, Hot Coffee is about the distortionary effects of money in politics which are manifested through the tort reform campaigns, specifically expenditures in judicial elections (on display recently in Wisconsin) and corporate lobbying for tort reform laws that protect them from compensating those injured by their products. Fundamentally, however, it’s about the American ideal of our court system as a place where anyone can go to seek justice, where an individual can take on a multinational corporation on a level playing field. It’s about the Constitutional guarantee of a judgment by a jury of our peers, about those who have fought against that guarantee and that ideal and those who have striven to achieve them.

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