Everyone has heard about the little old lady in Albuquerque who spilled hot coffee in her lap, sued McDonald’s for millions, and won. This cogent doco about the decline of civil justice in America has worldwide resonance.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2011
The case of the little old lady who spilled hot coffee in her lap, sued McDonald’s for millions and won is legendary. Susan Saladoff’s documentary investigates what really happened – and shows how easily American corporations can misrepresent themselves as the victims of civil suits. The notion of the ‘frivolous lawsuit’ is so widespread by now that trial lawyers, once valiant defenders of the little guy, are generally regarded as predatory opportunists. America has taken the bait, Saladoff argues, voting for so-called ‘tort reforms’ that effectively deny juries the right to assess appropriate settlements. A wider picture is drawn in three other jaw-dropping tales of civil justice eroded by corporate power. Increasingly common ‘mandatory arbitration’ agreements in employment and service contracts waive citizens’ rights to legal redress: Saladoff tells one last story that makes the abuses this can shelter indelibly clear. Such cogent examples of democratic rights under attack may be specifically American, but who of us can take comfort in that? — BG