Work on Ralph Nader’s law museum underway in Winsted

Photo courtesy of Ryan Flynn of The Register Citizen
July 14, 2014

The construction of Ralph Nader’s “American Museum of Tort Law” is officially underway. Nader plans to open the nation’s first law museum by the fall of 2015 at 654 Main St. in his native Winsted. The application for the museum will go before the Winchester Planning and Zoning Commission on July 28. The meeting is 7 p.m. at Town Hall. The application is for a special exception change of use permit.

The property was formerly owned by Winsted Savings Bank and Northwest Community Bank, which merged and later became available for purchase. Nader took control of the site with plans for renovation to make room for the museum he’s envisioned.

O&G Industries has been contracted to do the renovation, which at this point includes knocking down walls and opening up the interior of the former bank to make room for exhibits.

“They have to adjust to the exhibit designer’s specifications,” Nader said Tuesday.

The work will mostly be interior, according to Nader, though the exterior canopy to the left of the building was also knocked down.

“The museum will serve as a major educational institution regarding the rights and remedies available to the American people under the rule of law that holds injurious wrongdoers accountable and deters future wrongdoing,” Nader said in 2013.

The law of torts, Nader previously told the Register Citizen in an emailed statement, is invoked by plaintiffs when there is wrongful injury to persons and property. Its origins date back to English common law.

Exhibits will include historical cases of precedent that built the “edifice of common law of torts,” along with major cases, including judicial decisions in auto safety, tobacco, asbestos and invasion of privacy. Plans were in the works for a website to be set up as well, to extend the reach of the museum’s mission to include contemporary and future developments, according to Nader. The museum could also host events.

Nader said the museum will serve Litchfield County well as a tourist attraction alongside Litchfield’s historic Tapping Reeve House and Litchfield Law School, the first established law school in the United States. It was founded during the late 18th and early 19th century.

The museum would be a nonprofit, but Nader noted that what the building takes from the town in taxes it will replace with the amount of tourists it attracts.

A five-time candidate for the U.S. presidency, Nader has spent much of his life focusing on consumer protection. He based his seminal 1965 book “Unsafe at Any Speed,” on lawsuits filed against the car manufacturer General Motors. His own lawsuit against GM in 1966, in which he claimed the company hired private investigators to discredit him, expanded tort law to cover “overzealous surveillance,” according to a summary of the court case.

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