'Hot Coffee' takes on tort reform movement
Film seeks to channel public sympathy toward tort cases.
A new HBO documentary seeks to channel public sympathy toward tort cases and trial lawyers
As a plaintiffs' lawyer in Oregon, Susan Saladoff occasionally made short films of her clients. She represented people claiming medical malpractice, and if she could capture video of what they were going through, she reasoned, they had a better chance of getting a quick settlement.
Saladoff's latest film won't lead to any settlements, but it's appearing on many more screens and will get more attention. Three years ago, she dropped her legal career and started work on what has become Hot Coffee, a pro-plaintiff documentary that's a call to arms over tort law, jury awards and judicial elections. The film has been making the rounds at festivals nationwide. Screenings are scheduled this week in New York and Washington, and the film is set for its public debut on HBO on June 27.
During the next month, Hot Coffee is scheduled to run at least 11 times on HBO or HBO2, and Saladoff said she's in the process of bringing it to as many as 30 film festivals. This month, it won a top prize at the Seattle International Film Festival, as the jury said it "makes dry legal boilerplate spring to life." Stops at law schools are in the works, and Saladoff said a theatrical release is planned for the fall, targeted at small, art-house theaters.
Joanne Doroshow, another tort expert who appears in the film, has longer-term hopes. The executive director of the Center for Justice& Democracy, a New York nonprofit that sides with plaintiffs on civil justice issues, she said Hot Coffee has the potential to change people's minds for years. "Moving forward, those of us who want to try to educate people about this issue will be able to point to this film and use it in educational ways," she said.
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