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Tort Law Museum to reopen

WINSTED — The American Museum of Tort Law, located on 654 Main St., will reopen for spring on Saturday, April 2.

The museum, which has been in the works for several decades, opened on Sept. 26. It closed in late December for a winter break.

The museum contains exhibits on the history of tort law and consumer advocacy.

On April 2, the museum will hold its “Grand Spring Reawakening” event with museum president Ralph Nader, along with attorneys and authors Mitchell Garabedian and Jan Schlichtmann.

The program will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Winsted United Methodist Church at 630 Main St and will include a question-and-answer session.

The event is free, but there is a suggested donation of $10 for admission to the event.

From 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., the museum will be open to the public for free.

In an interview with The Winsted Journal, Nader said that while attendance to the museum has been steady, attendance by Winsted residents has been low since the museum opened.

However, Nader said, he hopes more local residents will attend the museum throughout the course of this year.

“It’s important to understand the importance of tort law in, in particular, how it protects people’s health and safety,” Nader said. “Some of the functions of tort law is to compensate people who are wrongfully injured and to disclose wrongdoing. The beauty of tort law is that once you explain it, people understand it, and they can apply it to a daily awareness through their experiences. One way or another, tort law can relate to everybody’s experiences, whether it would be workplace hazards or breathing bad air.”

Nader said that the museum is the only museum of its kind in the country.

“There’s museums on sculptures, paintings and aquariums, but nothing on tort law,” he said. “This is a museum about the human experience. Tort law is under assault by corporate lobbyists and federal lawmakers who don’t understand the historical implications of bi-partisan support of tort law of from over 200 years ago. It is a pillar of our democracy.” 

Garabedian, a practicing attorney in Boston, has represented hundreds of victims of sexual abuse by clergy since 1979.

The Academy award-winning movie “Spotlight,” released last year, is about The Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests in Massachusetts.

In the film, Stanley Tucci plays Garabedian.

“I have not visited the museum yet, but I have a lot of anticipation in seeing it,” Garabedian said. “I think the museum is important because it is a statement of how tort law should be taken seriously. On behalf of plaintiffs and advocates, it reflects a need for a legal process to help plaintiffs find justice. I think that the museum helps to reinforce and support the position plaintiffs need in order to have a legal forum with their claims.”

Schlichtmann is a Massachusetts attorney who specializes in consumer, environmental, product and toxic tort litigation.

In 1986 he represented eight Woburn, Mass., families against the W.R. Grace and Beatrice Foods companies for the contamination of the Woburn City water supply.

The 1998 movie “A Civil Action” was based on the case, and John Travolta played the role of Schlichtmann.

“I think that the Winsted community can be quite proud of this museum and the fact that the town is the host of it,” Schlichtmann said. “It is a very important museum because it gives the insight of things of the past and how the system of tort law serves us. It gives accountability and the system serves us, and this museum is the best testament of that. We really need to learn from our past mistakes, and the only way to do that is to be honest about them. It is important to see the courage of clients and attorneys who can understand the facts and make changes so life can be better.”

Schlichtmann said that he has not visited the museum, but he said he is looking forward to visiting.

“Being a father who thinks about places to bring my two sons and daughter to, it would be interesting to visit the museum,” he said. “It would be an interesting and enlightening event for the family to enjoy, because the museum captures things that interest the human mind. We are certainly attracted to things in the past and the stories attached to it. The museum shows the American legal system at its best and the American innovative spirit, how it can do both good and bad.”

For more information about the museum, go to www.tortmuseum.org.

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