Ralph Nader Opens Museum Devoted To Suing Big Business

26 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Ralph Nader’s Tort Law Museum Seeks to Keep His Crusade Evergreen.

But there is a snazzy red Chevrolet Corvair, the car that Ralph Nader said had dangerous structural flaws in his 1965 book, “Unsafe at Any Speed.” A half-century after the book made him famous and propelled his career as consumer-crusader in chief, the 81-year-old Mr. During a tour of the museum before its opening on Sunday, he said he hoped the museum would teach a new generation about the vital benefits of personal injury lawsuits and even, dare it be said, plaintiff lawyers. He wants to educate people about the hard-fought history of consumer protections that are now taken for granted — and that he says are under assault. “Tort law is being run into the ground, maligned, caricatured and slandered because it’s effective,” said Mr. He described the conservative agenda of tort reform, which seeks limits on lawsuits and financial awards, as “the cruelest movement I’ve ever encountered.” The museum aims to describe the evolution of the law regarding negligence and liability, and it features some of the most groundbreaking cases of the late 20th century.

These include decisions involving the Dalkon Shield (a dangerous intrauterine device) and the Ford Pinto (whose gas tank was prone to explosive burning in accidents), as well as the historic lawsuits that laid low tobacco companies and the asbestos industry. Nader also dreams of having drama students re-enact famous tort trials in a mock courtroom here and streaming the cases online to high schools, colleges and law schools. Nader’s public stature, when General Motors admitted it had hired private detectives to follow him and search for apparently nonexistent personal dirt. Nader, who is widely seen as the godfather of consumer rights and public interest law, although his starlight was later dimmed by hard-edge campaigns as a third-party presidential candidate and accusations that he spoiled Al Gore’s chances against George W.

One could fill halls solely with the exploits of Nader’s Raiders, the teams of college students he set loose on polluters and toothless regulators in the late 1960s, and the work of groups he founded like the Center for Study of Responsive Law, Public Citizen and more. The displays, despite large cartoonish illustrations, require close reading, and many are accompanied by thought-provoking questions about the gray areas in liability. Though the language is not shrill, a common element in the showcased disputes is what the museum’s labels describe as strenuous efforts by companies to deceive the public about risks. Pointedly included is the case that became a symbol to some of consumer overreach and trial lawyer greed: the 1992 suit by a 79-year-old woman who was badly burned in the groin and thighs when she spilled a cup of scalding McDonald’s coffee. In the misguided popular lore, the display says, the woman was driving when the coffee spilled (she was not), she was not badly injured (she was, with third-degree burns that put her in the hospital for eight days and caused permanent scarring), she was out to fleece McDonald’s (the company rejected her initial request for just $20,000 to cover medical expenses) and she received millions (she received less than $500,000).

Speaking at a ceremony to dedicate the museum on Saturday will be the former attorney general Ramsey Clark; Senator Richard Blumenthal; the prizewinning historian Eric Foner of Columbia University, who in an interview called tort law “the weapon of the weak”; and the punk-rock singer and author Patti Smith. Nader’s latest book is “Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 2001 — 2015.” But beyond that, he lost support in 2000, when, critics say, his presidential run on the Green Party ticket helped Mr. If anything, he has become more caustic than ever as he denounces the influence of corporate money and power, and what he sees as government acquiescence. This month he excoriated federal prosecutors for letting his old nemesis, General Motors, off with a nearly $1 billion penalty, but no individual criminal charges, for failing to disclose a safety defect tied to at least 124 deaths.

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