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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hot Coffee

[First, a reminder - progressive potluc tonight 5 to 8 pm. Get directions by emailing couleeprogressive[at]hotmail.com]

Do you know about LinkTV? It's an independent television channel available on cable and satellite tv line ups that digs into the issues most other television channels don't cover.

Today I am temporarily in a house with satellite TV and I'm watching the 2011 documentary, Hot Coffee, on LinkTV. You must watch it.

Here's a blurb from the doc's website:

Because of the success of the public relations campaigns, paid for by tobacco, pharmaceutical and insurance companies, to name a few, our civil justice system is not impartial. Jurors have been led to believe that a large verdict will affect their pocketbooks. Voters believe that we have a court system out of control that needs reforming.  Although there are consumer advocacy groups who have attempted to set the story straight, there has yet to be enough money to launch the kind of public relations campaign for consumers that can even begin to combat and challenge the public relations campaigns of pro-business and tort reform groups. Over the last few years, however, documentary films and independent film festivals have become a vehicle for alternative ideas to get a public forum.

If you have access to LinkTV through cable or satellite, the documentary will air again on Monday, October 24 at 7:30 p.m.

The film begins by telling the story of 79-year-old Stella Liebeck who ordered a cup of coffee from a drive-through window at a McDonalds restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Mrs. Liebeck was seated in the passenger seat of a parked car and, as she tried to add cream and sugar to her coffee, spilled the entire cup of scalding hot coffee on her lap. She suffered severe third-degree burns, years of expensive medical treatment, and a lawsuit that soon had the whole country talking.

Following an explanation of what really happened in the Hot Coffee Case, filmmakers show how this case and the myth of frivolous lawsuits was used to "catapult the propaganda" as George W. Bush says to remove basic legal rights of Americans and give a free pass to corporations.

Tort Reform - (or as Ralph Nader calls it, "tort DEform") - a concerted effort to limit or end the rights of citizens to sue when there is harm. Using a misrepresentation of the hot coffee case (and others), Republicans and their business cronies pushed for these limits in state legislatures around the country. In Wisconsin, for example, the Republican legislature in ALEC modeled "tort reform" passed in 2011, limited citizens rights to sue nursing homes for neglect and injury, prohibiting parents from suing over the death of an adult child. (Read more about how Republicans have provided health care providers and institutions with the freedom to malpractice in Wisconsin here.)

Capping damage awards - arbitrary limits on amounts juries can award when they decide that e someone has been harmed and deserves compensation. This section highlights a baby born with severe disabilities due to medical negligence. The jury that heard the case, including estimatees of the funds needed to provide maintenance, care, and living expenses for the victim, awarded a reasonable amount. But a cap cut the award by 80 percent. As a result, it's probable that the victim will need to go on Medicaid for care which will ultimately provide a lower quality of life paid for by taxpayers rather than the people responsible for the injury.

Buying state supremeourts to uphold business-friendly "tort reforms" and damage award caps - John Grisham's great novel, The Appeal, was based upon the 2000 re-election campaign of  Oliver Diaz for Mississippi's Supreme Court which is highlighted in this section. We have seen almost carbon-copy situations in Wisconsin.

Mandatory Arbitration - the practice of forcing people to use arbitration rather than use the courts
Case of a KBR (Haliburton) employee raped and beaten by co-workers, rape kit given to employer and disappears, imprisoned in a shipping container. After rescue by federal troops she was unable to sue for the mistreatment and torture because of the arbitration clause in her employment contract.

Featuring Joan Claybrook, John Grisham, and George Lakoff among others, the film lays out one way that, as President Jimmy Carter has said, "The U.S. is now an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery."
“When somebody goes to court, they’re doing something extraordinary that is hidden. To go to court and to sue is not a simple procedure. You have to go through a lot of trouble. It affects your life. You’re going to be attacked in all sorts of ways. Going to court to gain justice is heroic. That idea has to be out there. When you ‘win a case,’ you win it for other people as well as gaining justice for yourself.” - Professor George Lakoff

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