The film started off by covering the infamous hot coffee case against McDonald's from a while ago. It then covered three subsequent but related cases, all things that had snowballed from Tort Reform. I was shocked that most of the random people on the street they found believed a tort was just a pastry. It's a term that means a wrongful act or harm done that can lead to a lawsuit. So "Tort Reform" basically means making it so that fewer "frivolous" lawsuits take place against companies, possibly forcing them to pay up in the event that they lose these cases. The media touted the hot coffee case as a frivolous lawsuit by someone who was too litigious and just wanted to extort McDonald's for money. That wasn't the case at all. She was seriously injured because of a glaring oversight by the company. Regardless of it being her fault that she spilled the coffee on herself, she suffered third-degree burns because the coffee was too damn hot. Over 700 other people had complained for the same reasons. McDonald's kept records. They did nothing about it until after this case was over.
The next issue was caps on damages from lawsuits, meaning caps on the required amount a business is required to pay a plaintiff if the plaintiff wins the lawsuit. A woman was pregnant with twins, and one night she noticed that something might have been wrong with her pregnancy. Her doctor didn't do what she was supposed to do. After another, competent doctor called for her to have an emergency C-sec, one of the woman's twins was born with severe disorders because of the previous doctor's negligence. So she and her husband sued, and won the case, hoping to have enough money to care for their son and pay for all of his medical expenses for quite a long time. Because of this cap on punitive damage awards, the couple were only awarded $1.25million instead of the ~$6million that the judge had read off from the jury's verdict. The amount got cut down later by the judge in accordance with this cap. Even with how messed up it is that a judge can change a jury's decision after the fact, it pissed me off that this family has to suffer because of all of this bullshit. When the mother blamed herself for not asking the right questions, I was livid for her. Her first doctor had been in trouble before but got to keep her license. So apparently the people who had complained before this family had just been "too litigious" and their claims had been "frivolous." What the fuck?
The next one was judicial elections, and how businesses can funnel money into innocent-looking lobbying foundations like the US Chamber of Commerce, in order to "buy" elections and re-elections for pro-business judges. In Mississippi, there was one judge that was strictly for the citizens and had been branded as anti-business. So the companies who wanted to keep him from winning his election in 2000 put their money into slanderous ads that tarnished his reputation. He ended up winning after taking out a loan and having a good friend co-sign on his behalf--a friend that posed no conflict of interest whatsoever. But even after winning, the judge was indicted, and had to go to court over a number of false allegations. He was found not guilty each time, but the time he wasted in the courtroom defending himself was time he didn't spend in the courtroom as a judge, possibly ruling against the same corporations that had messed up his reputation. He didn't win his re-election because the people bought into the circus surrounding the allegations, despite having proved his innocence each time.
The last topic, and arguably the most frustrating one, dealt with mandatory arbitration clauses in certain types of contracts, like ones new employees sign when they're hired at a company, making an exception saying that the employee does not have the right to sue the company for any reason. A young woman who was 19 signed a contract with a company. She was sent to another location for work and was promised she would have three female roommates. When she arrived, she had men for rommates instead. Well-aware of the arbitration clause she had signed, the men drugged and raped her. One of them had the audacity to sit and wait for her in her room, in her bed, once she woke up and realized what had happened. He knew that the law was on his side and that he could get away with what he had done.
When she tried to call for help, the company locked her in a bunker with an armed guard watching over her. She managed to get out and go back home. Then she learned about this clause and how it kept her from pursuing a proper trial against her employer in court. All she could do was have a "private" case with a judge who was in the corporation's pocket and would obviously not be impartial. After several attempts to do something about this, she spoke before a congressional meeting that was more productive, in the hopes of amending this ridiculous clause. The representative she was up against had the nerve to say that the mandatory arbitration clause keeps the workplace safe (presumably from those pesky frivolous lawsuits). How was this woman's workplace safe when she was drugged and raped by several men who knew they could get away with it? How?!
I don't fucking understand how anyone could sell their soul to a paycheck or bribe or fiscal year profit increase for their company and spew this kind of bullshit. Things like this are what put me off from becoming a lawyer. I used to want to be one. I've always cared about fairness. But my problem, apparently, is that I also care about fairness in the context of morality and true accountability. I don't like how some lawyers will just handwave away the corruption and go on about reasonable doubt.
"As long as you can prove your client is innocent, then it's fine. Your skill is what counts," they'll say.
I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I lost not because of my lack of skill, but because of the systemic issues that had set my client up to fail right from the start.
As irritated as I sound, I'm actually glad I watched this documentary. It put into one place all of the pieces I had picked up over the years about the system. It also helped me finalize my plans for dramatic arcs for Ruska. Not in a direct way. Not in a way that's obvious, or even has much to do with the justice system. I had always known exactly what one character's motivations were. Watching this gave me the tools to fill in questions I still had to answer in the prose. This whole arc has to do with demonizing someone who is just--someone in the right--all to maintain a type of status quo.
I had it happen to me before. I'm sure it's happened more times than I'm aware of. Four in particular stand out to me: once when I was fourteen that ended up breaking me to the serious persona I have now, once when I was seventeen (that I wasn't aware of until several years later), once when I was twenty-three, and once a few months ago while I was still twenty-five.
Once I figured out how to apply my experiences to this documentary and this specific character, everything clicked.
I have everything I need to finish Ruska the way it needs to be rewritten.
Anathema is right.