Forced arbitration affects almost all consumers of goods and services and millions of employees who sign contracts where the fine print eliminates their right to seek justice in court. Yet forced arbitration remains an issue largely unknown to the public. That may change soon. Filmmaker Susan Saladoff through her documentary film “Hot Coffee,” presents gripping accounts of the ongoing corporate campaign to restrict individuals’ right to a civil jury trial, including Stella Liebeck’s story, which also inspired the film’s title.
Most Americans have heard of Stella Liebeck. She was the 79-year-old woman who in 1992 sought and won compensation in court in a case against McDonald’s Corp. after suffering third-degree burns on her groin, inner thighs and buttocks when the company’s too-hot coffee which was heated at dangerously high temperatures spilled onto her lap. Due to the distortions and false rumors that soon became conventional wisdom – no, she was not racing down a highway while trying to sip her coffee – Liebeck’s case became a symbol for so-called “tort reform,” or corporate efforts to give big businesses near-immunity from liability.
Talking points. In Washington, D.C., we eat them for breakfast. In our 24 hour cable news, social media, info-explosive culture – corporations know the power of words and they regularly use them to turn advocacy groups against ourselves, to create political divisions among ordinary Americans where none exist, to play off fears and to spread misinformation. In short, they use words to spread corporate mythology. Finally, for organizations like Public Citizen that have been fighting for citizen access to justice for years there’s someone exposing the real story behind the corporate mythology of tort “reform.”
I say jury, you say ________ . I say lawsuit you say_______. According to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), “If you filled in the blank with ‘runaway’ or ‘frivolous,’ you’re a testament to the corporate propaganda campaign.” As a civil justice attorney, Susan Saladoff had seen and heard enough. She set about to expose the truth behind the corporate push for tort “reform” and started by tackling the unfortunate poster child, Stella Liebeck.
In 1992, Liebeck was burned by hot coffee from McDonald’s. How hot? 180-degrees-hot. Third-degree-burns-hot. The-doctors-weren’t-sure-she-would-live-hot. But as Saladoff explains in the opening story of her documentary “Hot Coffee” —this wasn’t the story corporate interests wanted you to hear.
The reviews for this film alone ought to be reason enough for you to tune in . . .
“The past isn’t dead,” the great Mississippi novelist William Faulkner famously wrote. “It isn’t even past.” And so tonight, on HBO (the network that shows nudity and has otherwise made cable one reason other than sports to watch the tube), premieres “Too Big to Fail.”
This draws on New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin’s fabulous eponymous book. If the HBO production is half as good as Sorkin’s book, it will tell a hellish tale of a thrilling couple of weeks in September 2008. The repercussions of decisions by the financial titans in New York and Washington, D.C. during that period live with us, very much today. They live in the U.S. government debt ceiling limit now commanding debate on Capitol Hill. They live in the millions of Americans jettisoned summarily from their jobs to the unemployment rolls. They live in the millions of homeowners foreclosed upon. They live in the sad employment prospects of recent college honors graduates.
Sorkin’s book, truly X-rated for prodigious use of the F word (How did he get inside all those meetings he retells? And do those well-educated executives really know so few other expletives?), walks hour-by-hour through the intertwining lives of a distraught Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld; bicycling addict Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson; New York Fed chief Timothy Geithner—who plays with potential merger possibilities as if he’s trading baseball cards; and a hapless Securities and Exchange Commission chair Chris Cox.
The HBO film can’t possibly contain the detail of Sorkin’s long, detailed, but riveting work. But film reaches a greater audience.
And for those of us attempting to fight back the inevitable return of a high tide of banking influence in Washington politics (they spend $1.4 million a day on lobbying), we welcome the HBO premier. After the 9:00 p.m. EST show, we can settle ourselves with some Faulkner, warm milk and cookies to calm ourselves to sleep.
Bart Naylor is a financial policy analyst for Public Citizen.
Help Public Citizen push for the nomination of a true consumer advocate to safeguard our financial safety in the future by signing our Elizabeth Warren petition .
It’s no secret that Public Citizen is against large banking institutions that are “too big to fail” – the corporations whose risky practices led to the crash of the financial industry.
While consumer activists have long been captivated with each ensuing step, trying to prevent the industry’s collapse from reoccurring, average movie-watchers are now getting a glimpse into the drama, as well.
HBO announced this month that it had bought the rights to New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin’s bestseller “Too Big To Fail: The Inside Story Of How Wall Street And Washington Fought To Save The System — And Themselves.”