One day in 1992 Stella Liebeck spilled a cup of McDonald’s coffee into her lap. Ever since, people have been fighting over what really happened.  
 
Undisputed: Ms. Liebeck sued McDonald’s, and in 1994 a jury awarded her nearly $3 million, $2.7 million of which was punitive damages. The disputed part is all the rest: Ms. Liebeck and her legal action quickly became a national symbol of frivolous lawsuits, a source of TV punch lines and outrage from the commentariat. The business world used the moment for what became known as tort reform, while others called it a blatant effort to bar the courthouse door. And in it all, Ms. Liebeck’s story was largely lost.  
 
So the story of Stella Liebeck opens the new documentary “Hot Coffee,” which will be shown [tonight] Monday on HBO, part of its summer documentary series.  
 
“Everybody knows — or thinks they know — the McDonald’s case,” said Susan Saladoff, who put her legal practice aside to direct and produce the film. “But they really don’t know it at all. I didn’t do this to become a filmmaker. I made this movie because I had something to say that needed to be said, and nobody else was saying it, at least to regular folks, to the public...”