The popular narrative that grew around the Liebeck suit is what political scientists William Halton and Michael McCann refer to in their definitive book Distorting the Law as a “tort tale.” Tort tales are narratives about lawsuits developed for the purposes of politics and popular culture, and as McCann explains are usually “either completely fictional accounts or highly fictionalized, reconstructed accounts of actual events.” Substituting half-truths and outright falsehoods for actual facts made a joke of a sad story about a 79-year old woman who suffered severe injuries because of an unnecessarily dangerous product from a very wealthy corporation.From a review of a new HBO documentary Hot Coffee by Scott Lemieux (of Lawyers, Guns, and Money)
If tort tales were merely fodder for sitcoms and comedians, the distortions might be harmless. But these tales are often used (and sometimes created) for political purposes. A major strength of Saladoff’s documentary is that she links the false narrative about the McDonald’s coffee case to a larger - and pernicious - political cause. Tort reform groups funded by corporations have used the fictionalized portrayal of the Liebeck suit and other tort tales to compel legislatures to limit access to the courts and place arbitrary caps on damages.