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Tort reform and the McDonald's hot coffee incident

Tonight on HBO, an important topic affecting the rights of injured people will receive a different kind of publicity. The documentary drama, Hot Coffee, covers the highly misunderstood product liability case against McDonald's, as well as several other noteworthy cases demonstrating how Americans' access to the civil justice system has changed over recent years. Tort reform is examined with an eye towards the role of the media and corporate America in mischaracterizing how juries and the civil justice system handle situations of personal injury and damage awards.

The McDonald's case is perhaps the most frequently cited case in the argument for tort reform and "caps" on the damages that can be awarded to an injured victim. It is a case that many people use to form their opinion on tort reform. However, few people know the actual details surrounding the injuries suffered by the victim, or the decisions made my McDonald's which could have prevented those injuries. The documentary helps to dispel many of the myths surrounding this case.

The documentary also covers a case involving the Gourley family in Nebraska. It demonstrates how limiting the damages available in a civil suit can leave people with just a fraction of the appropriate compensation for the harm done to them. Instead of the parties who were responsible for the injury, taxpayers end up footing the bill for the damage done.

The film also tells the story of a woman who was drugged, raped, and confined in a shipping container while working in Iraq for KBR/Halliburton. It shows how the corporation attempted to keep her out of court, citing arbitration provisions in her contract. After a six year battle, the woman just recently gained access to a jury trial. This is a right many of us take for granted, but which has been eroded by constant media pressure and legislative interference. For people interested in the rights of ordinary citizens who are harmed to obtain justice, the movie should help expose the myths of tort reform.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Watch Hot Coffee, a Powerful New Film on HBO June 27," Joanne Doroshow, 26 June, 2011

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