Stephen Colbert was at his snarky best last night interviewing Susan Saladoff, former attorney and director of Hot Coffee, a new documentary. The film tells the story of the McDonald's coffee case, Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants, No. CV-93-02419 (2d Jud. Dist. Ct. N.M., Bernalillo County, Aug. 14, 1994), a products liability lawsuit. (Law librarians may recall that Lexis recently gave out coffee mugs with the name of this case emblazoned on one side). The plaintiff sued McDonald's after purchasing coffee at a drive-through. When the coffee spilled on her lap, she suffered third-degree burns and required skin grafting and debridement to deal with her extensive injuries. The jury initially awarded her $2.9 million, but the trial judge reduced that to $640,000. Liebeck and McDonald's ultimately settled for an undisclosed amount that has never been publicly revealed.
Much has been written about the case, to which critics point as an example of a "frivolous" lawsuit. In fact, Liebeck's injuries were extensive and serious. In Colbert's interview with Saladoff, he casts himself as an average guy for whom this case represents everything that is wrong with the American judicial system. Saladoff matched him point for point, and emphasized that the system works exactly as it should work. When individuals are injured, they should be able to seek redress against the person or corporation that is responsible for their injuries. There should be no limits on their ability to be made whole through the courts. Stephen was having none of it, but at the end, Saladoff received a hearty round of applause from the audience. The DVD will be available for purchase on November 1.