WINSTED — For activist Ralph Nader, tort law is the foundation on which all legal defenses are built.
He respects the law so much, in fact, that he founded the American Museum of Tort Law and set it up in his home town of Winsted, where it offers visitors the opportunity to learn how the law works and what it has accomplished.
To further the opportunities to learn, Nader’s “first ever” Tort Law Day will be held at Winsted’s United Methodist Church, 639 Main St., from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 5. Tort Law Day will feature a variety of speakers addressing sexual assault, police violence, medical malpractice, privacy law, pollution and the civil justice system’s battle to protect citizens.
“The speakers are coming from everywhere,” Nader said, during an interview from his office in Washington, DC. “You read about them, and they’re usually people who bring cases or write law review articles. It’s not hard to find them — it’s harder to get through to them and invite them to speak. So the lineup we have is a good one.”
Those speakers will enlighten people on the importance of tort law, Nader said.
“When you boil it down, this is a wonderful advance course on tort law,” he said. “Come and learn how to defend yourself. Come and learn how tort law works. When you look at the speakers (and their topics) you’ll say, ‘Oh, I’ve read about this before.’ It will be very familiar.”
Nader said the use of the word “civil” is interchangable with tort law.
“The press will say people filed a civil suit, but never a tort suit, which is actually what it is,” he said. “The purpose of the day is to set a model (of reference) so in the future, people can look at that model. It could be come a tradition — like Labor Day, which is celebrated every year, there could be an annual Tort Law Day.”
Families, he said, can file lawsuits for a variety of reasons, and they all fall into the tort law category. “All the laws put together don’t touch as many people as tort law,” Nader said.
He said that in recent years, there have been “mountains of assaults” against the tort law system.
“It’s called Tort Deform,” Nader said. “The insurance companies want to limit damages to a certain amount, no matter how serious the injury is.
“If someone’s been subjected to medical malpractice, and needs a lifetime of care — if it’s a child, the insurance company will say ‘There’s no wages lost,’ and they’ll try to limit (the payout) to the victim,” Nader said. “They also try to obstruct certain evidence in court, or limit the statute of limitations on how much time allowed to sue (for damages). I think it’s two years in Connecticut. But sometimes, people don’t know they can take action for some time.”
Other ways around a wrongful injury or death suit, he said, is to limit the role of a jury. “Insurers don’t like juries,” Nader said with a laugh. “They want to limit that role and just give it to a judge.”
The longtime activist and former presidential candidate also hopes students will attend Tort Law Day. He invited Torrington High School, the Gilbert School, Litchfield High School and other area school students to make an effort to attend next Saturday’s events.
“Nothing is taught in the high schools about this at all,” he said. “We are developing a curriculum that schools in Winsted and Torrington could adopt, so the students get an idea of what it’s all about. After students graduate, there’s no framework for them (to understand) about negligence, compensation, defamation. Defamation is a tort. It’s important to learn about it.”
Nader’s view on social media is mixed. He believes that sites such as Facebook and Twitter are trying to catch up and monitor content more carefully, but “once the genie is out of the bottle, it’s hard to pull it back in,” he said. “They’re hiring people to screen out hate speech, but there’s that going to end?”
The program’s speakers include: Kristen Rose, presenting “Plaintiff”; attorney Lynne Bernabei, “Sexual assault in the Me Too era”; attorney Joe McMahon, “Police violence and civil rights”; League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed, “Sports and Torts”; Professor Phil Peters, “Medical Malpractice”; Marc Rotenerg, president of EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center), “The Rebirth of the Privacy Tort”; Tony Roisman, “Climate Disruption By Polluters”; and Joanne Doroshow, center for Justice and Democracy, “Looming Threats to Civil Justice System.” The keynote speaker is Democratic Rhode Island U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.
“Sen. Whitehouse has written a law review article on tort law, and his specialty is corporate crime,” Nader said. “It’ll be a memorable day, for sure. It’ll be very memorable.”
Seating capacity for Tort Law Day is limited. For reserved seats, RVSP to tortmuseum.org. The museum’s executive director is Richard L. Newman. To reach the museum, call 860-379-0505.