Sweet Coffee: The Next Great Documentary?

Noted Plaintiff’s attorney turned filmmaker Susan Saladoff has created quite a buzz with her documentary, Hot Coffee. The anti-tort reform film, which derives its title from the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee case, premiered at the prestigious Sundance film festival and will air on HBO later this month.  As if Sundance and HBO were not enough, Hot Coffee has even been given its own feature role here on Abnormal Use.  With all of this success, how will Saladoff ever be able to find another frivolous misunderstood case  to use to cash-in document?  Thankfully, we know that Saladoff reads Abnormal Use, and we have discovered the subject-matter for the perfect Hot Coffee sequel. Here’s our free advice.

A Pennsylvania woman has sued Dunkin’ Donuts for personal injuries after drinking a cup of coffee purchased from one of the chain’s Philadelphia locations.  According to the complaint, the woman ordered coffee with artificial sweetener, but the Dunkin’ Donuts employee mistakenly used sugar.  The sugar mix-up allegedly caused the lady to enter into diabetic shock.  As a result, she has had to alter her diabetes medication and has “sustained a loss of enjoyment of life.”

With Hot Coffee, Saladoff formulated the perfect equation for the anti-tort reform documentary:  sympathetic plaintiff + big corporation + morning beverage = success.  This recent action fits perfectly within the criteria.

Sympathetic Plaintiff

The first rule of film-making is that audiences can be hypnotized by conflict faced by marginalized characters.  Instead of an elderly woman as in the McDonald’s case, this case features a medication-dependent diabetic.  Similar to their reaction to children and the elderly, audiences will naturally sympathize with people having pre-existing conditions.  Certainly each of Dunkin’ Donuts employees should have known the medical history of each patron prior to filling an order.  At the very least, they should have been instructed that each customer is a potential egg shell plaintiff and that the substitution of sugar for artificial sweetener could result in the “loss of enjoyment of life.”

Big Corporation

The second rule of film-making is that when given the choice between David and Goliath, audiences choose David.  In Hot Coffee, Saladoff was able to garner greater sympathy for Stella Liebeck by suggesting that McDonald’s flexed its billion-dollar muscles and engaged in a public disinformation campaign to alter the public perception of the lawsuit.  While McDonald’s has not meaningfully commented on the hot coffee case since the 1990’s, Dunkin’ Donuts has already made a public statement.  According to the report, Dunkin’ Donuts’ legal liaison in the Philadelphia-region said:

[W]e encounter thousands and thousands of customers on a daily basis.  We don’t provide a customer with anything they don’t request.  If they request a medium coffee, they will get a medium coffee.  If you fail to request a sugar substitute , we can’t read your mind.  We sell doughnuts, not crystal balls.

It is so much easier to mischaracterize the statements of a corporate representative when he or she has the nerve to suggest the plaintiff was contributorily negligent.  By using this case, Saladoff wouldn’t even have to undertake her own disinformation campaign in response.

Morning Beverage

The final rule of film-making must be the inclusion of a standard morning beverage, preferably one which is consumed without incident every day for years before causing a problem. Unfortunately, after Saladoff’s documentary, hot coffee cases have now run their course.  Those suits now happen all the time because restaurants still haven’t learned that their patrons prefer their coffee to be served cold.  But people have now grown tired of these stories.

Saladoff needs something new, something that will really get an audience fired up.  Since we here at Abnormal Use are unaware of any defective orange juice cases, sweet coffee will have to do the trick.  Like the dangers of hot coffee, it is obviously foreseeable that the substitution of one teaspoon of sugar in a cup of coffee can have dire consequences.  We suggest ignoring any evidence that the plaintiff negligently forgot to request artificial sweetener.  These types of omissions happen all the time in documentary editing.  After all, you can only put so much information in a film before it becomes the next War and Peace.

After a careful review of the recent Dunkin’ Donuts action, we find that with a little exaggeration careful editing, the foundation for a successful documentary has been laid.  Because we here at Abnormal Use have so enjoyed Saladoff’s contributions to our blawg, we would like to return the favor and name her next great documentary – Sweet Coffee:  Why Didn’t I Just Mix It Myself?