When 'Hot Coffee' Spills, Should American Courts Respond?

Jun 5, 2012

We're walking out on the minefield of tort reform today, and the reason we're doing it is that film-maker Susan Saladoff is in town.

Her documentary "Hot Coffee" does a great job of exploring a meme that was everywhere in the 1990s -- a woman burned herself while opening a cup of coffee between her legs while driving and had won millions in a lawsuit against McDonalds.

I can say with some small amount of pride that in my capacity as a talk show host on a mostly conservative station back in those days, I knew the facts of the case and told them to my audience.

The woman, Stella Liebeck, was a passenger not a driver. The trial uncovered more than 700 reports of people burned by McDonald's coffee. The company had refused to alter the temperature of the coffee it served. The award -- which was reduced to $640,000 -- happened because the jury got mad at McDonald's.

We'll tell you more on today's show.

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