Ashland lawyer/filmmaker Susan Saladoff will showcase her documentary "Hot Coffee" Tuesday on the Colbert Report and talk with comic-host Stephen Colbert about its theme — the efforts of corporations to neutralize liability lawsuits against them.
The career-boosting appearance on the Comedy Central channel follows a showing at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival and many others in recent months — Los Angeles, Seattle, Nantucket, Atlanta, Provincetown, Edmonton. It's been shown at festivals overseas in Israel, Norway, Argentina, New Zealand and Brazil and, says Saladoff, she's been so busy with it that she hasn't handled a case in two years. "This has become my career now," she said in a Skype interview from Bergen, Norway. "I'm so excited and thrilled. I'm going to have fun with Colbert. My sense is he will love the movie. He's very, very funny. He's hysterical and very savvy. A lot of people watch him."
The 86-minute DVD will be released for sale to the public Nov. 1, with the option to click on politicians of your choice and have it sent to them, along with a personalized greeting from you, for $10. It's on her website at www.hotcoffeethemovie.com or can be rented on Netflix. It also streams on HBO GO. "People like (Republican presidential candidate) Rick Perry are going to get hundreds of them, because he's for tort reform," she said.
The film studies the realities of the "hot-coffee case," in which an elderly woman initially won $2.3 million from McDonald's because of burns from spilled coffee.
It tracks the public relations campaign given the case, making such suits seem frivolous and lessening jury sympathy for plaintiffs. The film, she says, shows how corporations "buy" judges so they overturn plaintiff awards and how corporations require consumers to sign away rights to trials in contracts for employment, mortgages, credit cards and other areas.
After 25 years as a trial lawyer, mostly in medical malpractice, Saladoff left her practice to conduct research for the movie and to interview experts, lawyers and victims on all sides of the issue, including author John Grisham and Sen. Al Franken.
In promoting the film, she has been interviewed on many talk shows, including those of Dylan Ratigan and Jonathan Alter on MSNBC and comic Pete Dominick on Los Angeles radio. She also has given many presentations in high schools, colleges and law schools.
"The movie has taken off in ways I'd never dreamed of," says Saladoff, the producer and director, "and it's educating people on what tort reform really means. It confirms the perception of corporate control of government. ... People don't understand how corporations control our court system. The movie gives you the concrete evidence of that."
Saladoff says her film is intended to be educational, so the public and its political representatives will move forward with legislation such as the Arbitration Fairness Act, now in Congress "and going nowhere."
The act, she notes, prohibits franchisors from including provisions that require the mandatory arbitration of all disputes that might arise later during the franchise agreement.
The film won the grand jury prize in Seattle, Tampa and Albuquerque, and was given the "Documentaries Every American Should See Award" at the Traverse City, Mich., Film Festival of documentary filmmaker Michael Moore.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at email@example.com.