America is a land of wacky museums, including ones honoring Pez dispensers, barbed-wire, and even the Museum of Bad Art in Massachusetts, but there is no law museum despite there being myriads of museums dedicated to similarly significant professions. That is about to change, however, as legendary consumer advocate and not-so-legendary presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, is set to open the American Museum of Tort Law in Nader’s hometown of Winsted Connecticut. Nader has envisioned the museum since at least 1998, according to a New York Times story from that year, and his goal will finally be realized as he has rented out a high school gymnasium in order to celebrate the museum’s September, 26th opening. Nader says about the museum, “I’m constantly astounded how a country can go over 200 years and not have a law museum and still brag about being a country with a rule of law. There are museums for major fruits, vegetables, garlic, every sport imaginable, lanterns, the most bizarre subjects you can imagine, and no law museum.”
Initially, the thought of a tort museum might sound as tortured for kids as a summer vacation with the Griswolds, but Nader believes parents shouldn’t rule out the possibility, saying, “Once they see it, it will be exciting.” It may be worth checking out if you are in the area, even if for a case of nostalgia. The museum is planning displays on the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee, exploding Ford Pintos, asbestos, flammable pajamas, and the pollution of Love Canal. Other featured displays include a mounted Chevrolet Corvair, so visitors can see the faulty suspensions that Nader famously called unsafe, as well as a large feature on tobacco litigation. Nader has hired retired lawyer, Richard Newman, who co-authored a seminal publication on tort law for the state of Connecticut, to be the museum’s first curator.
Although the museum may provide America with another small-town curiosity, it shouldn’t be surprising that the museum has been criticized from many angles. The project has seen many investors pull out of the deal and many believe the museum is nothing more than a self-congratulatory tribute for Nader’s career as a consumer advocate. It is estimated that Nader has spent over $150,000 of his own money to keep the project afloat. Some local residents are criticizing Nader for using two properties, and removing them from the town’s tax rolls. Even Milly Hudak, Winsted’s town historian sounds less than enthused by the project. Hudak told the Wall Street Journal, “Oh, big deal, Ralph Nader. I don’t think people are going to get excited. How many people, if you said to them, ‘There’s going to be a tort museum,’ they’ll say, ‘What’s a tort?’” Tom Stebbins of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York added some snark, saying “You probably couldn’t get school kids there because they’d sue the bus driver on the way.” Even if haters are going to hate, there have been myriads of worse ideas to come from people’s ambitions: namely Ford Pintos, cigarettes, and asbestos among countless others. Good on you Mr. Nader!
New York Magazine – Jamie Fuller
Wall Street Journal Law Blog – Jacob Gershman