One day in 1992 Stella Liebeck spilled a cup of McDonaldâ€™s coffee into her lap. Ever since, people have been fighting over what really happened.
Undisputed: Ms. Liebeck sued McDonaldâ€™s, and in 1994 a jury awarded her nearly $3 million, $2.7 million of which was punitive damages. The disputed part is all the rest: Ms. Liebeck and her legal action quickly became a national symbol of frivolous lawsuits, a source of TV punch lines and outrage from the commentariat. The business world used the moment for what became known as tort reform, while others called it a blatant effort to bar the courthouse door. And in it all, Ms. Liebeckâ€™s story was largely lost.
So the story of Stella Liebeck opens the new documentary â€śHot Coffee,â€ť which will be shown [tonight] Monday on HBO, part of its summer documentary series.
â€śEverybody knows â€” or thinks they know â€” the McDonaldâ€™s case,â€ť said Susan Saladoff, who put her legal practice aside to direct and produce the film. â€śBut they really donâ€™t know it at all. I didnâ€™t do this to become a filmmaker. I made this movie because I had something to say that needed to be said, and nobody else was saying it, at least to regular folks, to the public...â€ť