Ralph Nader aims to share impact, importance of tort law at Winsted museum
WINSTED >> Ralph Nader has been working to bring the American Museum of Tort Law into existence for the last decade-plus — and now, that effort is about to come to fruition, as the institution is set to open in Winsted later this month.
Nader hopes that the museum will be a boon for the downtown — another installment in a series of businesses and initiatives that have recently come into the area.
“Winsted is a perfect place (for the museum). It’s part of the early industrial revolution, where factories were built and workers were injured … historically it’s finely suited. Secondly, it’s my home town,” said Nader. “And the third is, Winsted is coming back in quite a few ways … Whiting Mills, with 60-plus craftspeople … then you have the American Mural Project, that’s going to be a big tourist destination. So you have: the only law museum in North America will be in Winsted, the only gigantic worker mural project in North America will be in Winsted. And finally, it’s a beautiful bank building — it looks like a museum. It’s got good parking, near Bradley Airport on a major highway.”
While some may consider tort law an esoteric topic, and thus an unlikely basis for a museum, Nader does not believe this is the case, as it concerns our standards for aspects of day-to-day life — cars, medicine, living spaces — that affect every American.
Showcasing the history of tort law in a museum — and thus putting the evolution of protections for everyday Americans in front of visitors, plain as day — Nader believes, will drive the importance of this aspect of the law home.
“It’s very visual. They’ll resonate with their own experience. Everybody drives, most people take medicines, people buy products that don’t work or are harmful. And it just resonates,” said Nader. “Unlike most museums, which are sort of curiosity places, like a coin-collecting museum or an art museum — they’re interesting, but you don’t leave and start talking about it in terms of your own experiences with your friends and co-workers and relatives. So in this sense, this museum deals with a dimension of American society that affects more people than any other sector of the law. Tort law affects more people, directly and indirectly, than any other segment of the law, because it’s the law that makes our country safer, healthier and more free.”
Nader hopes that the museum informs the public about the importance of tort law, and how it has allowed Americans to shape societal standards directly over time.
“When you file a lawsuit, you don’t have to ask permission. Like if you want a regulation, a safety regulation, you’ve got to beg some agency in Hartford or Washington. If you want to get something from the legislatures, you’ve got to beg. But if you’re wrongfully injured, and you can go to a lawyer on a contingent fee — the lawyer charges you only if he wins, or she wins… you don’t have to ask anybody. So it’s direct democracy,” said Nader. “Mostly, (throughout the world), you have boards, administrative boards, like our failing workers’ compensation system, where it’s like a meat chart — you have so many stagnant dollars for a leg lost, or an arm lost… it’s very politicized, it doesn’t keep up with inflation and so on. So that’s where our civil justice system has led to so much deterrence.”
“The sequence, as I pointed out, is, for example, a lawsuit exposes the Toyota sudden acceleration involving millions of cars, or the airbag defects of Takata, and so on. Then that gets into the media, and that brings it to the attention of the NHTSA… who initiate investigation, who start demanding recalls, or higher safety standards. You see the sequence? It’s a very healthy sequence. You don’t see that in most countries.”
Plans for the future of the museum, according to Nader, include the creation of a full-size courtroom with “expanded web and media facilities,” which will allow the activities that go on there, as well as coverage of news regarding new developments in tort law, to be streamed online.
Other possibilities include inviting high school students to re-enact famous trials, and hosting lecturers and speakers from across the legal world, including judges and jurors.
The museum is set to open on Saturday, Sept. 26, with an opening ceremony that will include a dedication ceremony and a convocation within The Gilbert School auditorium and feature speeches from, among others, both Nader and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
“We’d really like people in the area to attend,” said Nader. “(If) people from Torrington and Winsted want to come, all the seats are available. They’re going fast, so they can do that right away.”
Nader suggests that those interested contact the American Museum of Tort Law, either by calling 202-387-8030 or emailing the institution through its website, tortmuseum.org.