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Tort law museum planned by Ralph Nader.

Victoria and Albert have one, and so does Andy Warhol. Now America's trial lawyers will have one, too: a museum.

Ralph Nader, the premier consumer advocate, is creating a new museum--devoted entirely to tort law--in his hometown of Winsted, Connecticut.

"Tort law is a major foundation of personal freedom and safety in America," Nader said. "The museum will be an enduring center for tort law education dedicated to citizen understanding."

The American Museum of Tort Law will be the nation's first and will feature exhibits focusing primarily on cases--from defective products to medical negligence--that have changed the landscape of American society.

"While we have 31 logging and lumber museums, 63 health museums, and more than 10,000 museums total in the nation, we don't have any law museums, save the modest effort that the [American Bar Association] has put on in its own building," said Fred Hyde, project manager for the museum.

"It's a fascinating project," Hyde said. "Our goal is to not only establish an effort on behalf of the champions of trial law but to do something that has not otherwise been accomplished in this country. That is to have a genuinely accredited law museum."

The museum will be housed in a restored 19th century factory known as The Law Works on Winsted's Main Street. It will contain museum exhibits, a gift shop and lobby, a library, a multimedia theater, and a full-size mock courtroom--including judges' chambers and a jury deliberation room. The museum staff will maintain a Web site for tort law education on the Internet, and traveling exhibits have been incorporated into the museum plan.

How does one create engaging museum exhibits to promote the somewhat dry and abstract concept of tort law? Much in the same way trial lawyers seek to enliven any case they present to jurors--by telling a story.

Hyde said that earlier this year he attended the annual meeting of the American Association of Museums in Los Angeles, which included a tour of that city's new Museum of Tolerance.

"That museum undertakes the difficult task of showing how preconception and prejudice lead to words, actions, and social policy," Hyde said. "In the Museum of Tolerance's innovative exhibit technologies, I could see the story of tort law being told as well."

Hyde said Tort Museum displays will be designed to help visitors visualize tortious conduct and understand legal issues and remedies throughout the history of common law. Where possible, displays will contain original trial exhibits.

The museum will also offer a variety of ongoing educational programs, including seminars, speakers, and workshops for journalists. Oral histories from attorneys, judges, and jurors will be incorporated into museum programs.

The museum founders hope to open the doors to the public in 1999. They plan to develop a national visitors' center in Washington, D.C., which would be in place by the year 2000.

Money for creating the museum will come from donations, admissions, gift shop sales, and other sources. Hyde said it will cost about $5 million to renovate the Connecticut building and to establish an endowment to sustain museum operations, outreach, and education programs. An additional $5 million will go toward building and maintaining the Washington, D.C., exhibit hall.
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Author:Brienza, Julie
Date:Jul 1, 1998
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