Monday, August 12, 2013

"Hot Coffee"

I just now finished watching the documentary, "Hot Coffee".  It's online at NetFlix and probably other sites as well.  Remember the infamous McDonald's lawsuit involving a lady who spilled coffee on her lap?  Remember how most of us denigrated her for bringing suit against McDonald's?  This film covers that case and several others in the tort arena; more than that, it delves into the Oligarchy's role in so-called Tort Reform.

In the case of the lady suing McDonald's, my mind was completely changed.  After seeing photographs of the burns, finding out that her medical bills were well over $10,000, and that there were hundreds of prior similar incidents and McDonald's ignored all complaints, and that her recovery involved numerous skin grafts, I decided she deserved every penny she was awarded by the jury.  Most importantly, initially all she requested of McDonald's was that they pay her medical bills.

Another case involved a 19-year-old woman employee of KBR (a subsidiary of Halliburton at the time) who was gang raped in Iraq by male co-workers and then locked in a shipping container.  The criminal case went nowhere ("He said, she said", I assume), and she couldn't bring a civil suit---tort case---against KBR because her employment contained a mandatory binding arbitration clause in fine print.  It took her four years to get the case into court.  Another case involved a mother who gave birth to a mentally damaged son, the damage being due to obvious medical malpractice.  Because of caps on court case jury awards in her State, her son's medical bills are now being paid largely by MediCaid (in other words, by the taxpayer) instead of by those who caused the damage.  There were other cases covered in the film, but I don't have time to go into them.

The above cases certainly make the documentary interesting, but it's real value is in the exposing of the so-called Tort Reform propaganda.  Backed by mega corporations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and former politicians such as George W. Bush, the tort reform movement is attempting (with significant success) to bamboozle Americans into believing that juries who hear tort cases somehow are incompetent when it comes to determining the amount of awards to plaintiffs.  Of course, the tort reform propaganda doesn't state it that way.  :)

I'm beginning to doubt that most people know the function of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in our society.  It's primary purpose is to be a lobbyist in DC for mega corporations.  It also funnels campaign funds to candidates for State Supreme Court Justice who are favorable to mega business interests.  Such Justices are then instrumental in overturning jury awards to wronged plaintiffs in tort cases.  The film documents such actions.

Tort Reform propaganda concentrates on those nasty trial lawyers [:)]; I fully admit that personally I don't care much for them either.  What the propaganda ignores and suppresses, however, is the fact that bringing suit in court is our main protection against shabby manufacturers, employers, and others.  The propagandists say that what they're against is FRIVOLOUS lawsuits, not the concept of bringing suit...and so, they promote caps on jury awards.  Think about that for a moment.  1. Frivolous lawsuits generally are thrown out of court.  2. Caps on awards apply to everyone and every case, not just those deemed frivolous by the Oligarchs.***  3. Without the possibility of a very large punitive damage award against them, those causing damage to people have little incentive to clean up their acts.  [***The film shows a clip of George W. Bush (back when) bragging to Congress that such-and-such Legislative Bill will put a stop to "frivolous" lawsuits by placing caps on jury awards to plaintiffs.  The man never could reason (or at least appears not to be able to).  Hey, Dubya, those caps you're so proud of apply to ALL cases.  They would even apply to a hypothetical case against a surgeon I once knew who used to boast that he could operate on a patient even when he (the surgeon) was "three sheets to the wind"... drunk.  Caps---what a dandy idea, George...yeah, right.] 

The Oligarchs also are rapidly implementing mandatory binding arbitration wherever and whenever they can, the purpose of which is to keep people out of court.  Do you hold a bank credit card?  If so, there's a 99% probability that if you have a dispute with the company, you cannot sue them in court---you're subject to mandatory arbitration.  The same is true if you own a cell phone...and many other manufactured goods.  It's also true for a large number of employees at a large number of places of employment.  According to the film, more employees now are subject to mandatory arbitration than there are members of employee unions.  No redress in court for you.  Anyone with common sense should be able to figure out that "arbitration" is a scam---it's biased in favor of the employer or manufacturer or other defendant.  The supposedly "independent" arbitrator would like more arbitration business from the Oligarch.  What do you, the plaintiff, have to offer?  Nothing, as far as the arbitrator is concerned.

Tort Reform and mandatory arbitration are two more oligarchical tools designed to dominate individuals and bypass basic individual rights.  Don't fall for the blatant propaganda.

Happy Trails