WINSTED — The American Museum of Tort Law wants you.
Don’t worry, it’s not for a trial, but for education and engagement.
The museum, which opened in September 2015, has had a successful assortment of programs, which attracted residents as well as attorneys, scholars, lawmakers and other guests. Its exhibits include the failed Ford Pinto and other failed products that were a threat to the public’s health, and were exposed by the museum’s founder, consumer advocate and city resident Ralph Nader. The museum focuses on topics of civil justice and “aspects of the legal system that handle wrongful actions that result in injury,” according to its website.
The small admission fee to attend a program or visit the museum doesn’t pay all the bills, though, and donations are a key part of the facility’s continuing success.
Executive Director Richard Newman said donations are welcome from anyone who signed up to receive emails on the museum’s events and programs, all focused on the impact of tort law.
“We have several thousand people from all over the country, following what we do here, and many of them are very supportive,” Newman said.
Newman would like to see the museum continue to expand its speaker program and other events this year.
“As we continue in our fifth year, the museum is going very well,” he said. “But it hasn’t grown as much as I would like.”
However, this year’s programs have received a positive response, he said.
“We had the Tort Law Education Day in October, and we had a couple hundred people show up for that,” Newman said. “We had speakers from all over the country, including Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (a civil justice advocate). Last month we had historian Eric Phoner speak, and that was well-attended. So we have these great programs, and the exhibits are outstanding.”
To draw more interest in the museum’s work, Newman said, it will hold remote programs in the coming year, including an event on slavery at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, and another on Sharia law in Washington, D.C., at a location to be announced.
“We’re working with some foundations to find a location for the one on Sharia law, which is a really interesting topic,” Newman said. “There are a couple of professors we have invited, who have compared the two legal systems. It will be filmed and available on the museum’s website so more people can see it. Those remote programs will give people a chance to learn about what we do here.”
Starting in January, the museum has scheduled an event each month, and will add more.
“We want to make sure we have something every month, with different speakers including those remote programs,” Newman said. “For example, a speaker (coming this year) is the author Mike Chase, an attorney from Shipman and Goodwin in Hartford, who wrote ‘How To Become a Federal Criminal: An Illustrated Handbook for the Aspiring Offender.’”
Earlier this year, Nader encouraged more students to use the museum as a resource. This week, Newman said he met with representatives from Northwestern Connecticut Community College and the Gilbert (high) school in Winsted, and that plans are under way to provide programming specifically for those students.
“That’s something we’ve been working on for a while,” Newman said. “The donations we receive are used to support educational programs like those, and also the general public, on the importance of trial by jury, and tort law. The museum’s work benefits everyone ... it results in safer products.
“The museum helps foster support for that sort of education, and offsets some of this propaganda about how tort law, the jury system, things like that, are broken,” he said “We’re trying to help people protect and expand their rights and build a safer, more informed society.”