Ashland documentary filmmaker to appear on 'The Colbert Report'

Ashland lawyer/filmmaker Susan Saladoff is scheduled to showcase her documentary "Hot Coffee" tonight on "The Colbert Report" and talk with comedian and host Stephen Colbert about its theme — the efforts of corporations to neutralize liability lawsuits against them.

"The Colbert Report" airs at 11:30 tonight on Comedy Central, Charter cable Channel 72.

The career-boosting appearance follows "Hot Coffee's" showing at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival and many other festivals — in Los Angeles, Seattle, Nantucket and Provincetown, Mass., Atlanta and Edmonton, Alberta. It's been shown at festivals overseas in Israel, Norway, Argentina, New Zealand and Brazil and, said 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 of the film 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 or can be rented on Netflix. It also streams on

"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. The amount was reduced by a judge to $640,000, and the two parties eventually settled on an undisclosed amount to avoid an appeal.

"Hot Coffee" tracks the public relations campaign given the case, making such suits seem frivolous and lessening jury sympathy for plaintiffs. The film, Saladoff said, 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," said Saladoff, the producer and director. "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 said 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 noted, prohibits franchisers 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, Fla., and Albuquerque, N.M., 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

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