WINSTED — The first-ever Tort Law Day Celebration was held on Saturday, Oct. 5 at the United Methodist Church.
The church is located right next to The American Museum of Tort Law, which was founded in 2015 by consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader.
In the audience at the event were residents, students from both Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass. and The Gilbert School, along with attorneys and law advocates from all across the country.
“I hope that [Tort Law Day] becomes a tradition all across the country,” Nader said in his opening remarks at the event. “Like my father once told me, if you don’t know the law, you lose the law. If you don’t use the law, you lose the law. Tort law has been called one of the great pillars of our legal system. Spanning from medieval England, who established trial by jury, coming over to across the Atlantic.”
Shining light on corporate wrongdoing
Moderating the event was Remington Gregg, counsel for civil justice and human rights for Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group founded in 1971 by Nader.
In his opening remarks, Gregg said that tort law helps to protect citizens from corporate wrongdoing.
“Companies want to keep things secret and that’s what forced arbitration does, it keeps wrongdoing a secret so it won’t come to light,” Gregg said. “Over the last few years we have seen people trying to shine a light on corporate wrongdoing, including survivors of sexual harassment who are, thanks to the ‘Me Too’ movement, now bringing their stories out. They’re saying that they won’t be silenced. We are seeing a resurgence of fighting against corporations and the powerful who want to silence people. That’s one of the great things about what is going on here today. We are talking about real people who have stories and who have overcome some of the most insidious ways of how corporations have tried to silence them.”
Making the roads safer
One of the speakers at the event was Kristen Rose from Coweta County, Georgia.
Rose was involved in an auto accident in October 2012 when she was driving a friend’s 1998 Ford Explorer on I-85 and one of the tires had a sudden tread separation.
The tread separation caused Rose to lose control of the vehicle which rolled over on the interstate.
She suffered severe injuries, including an 8-inch gash from the top of her eye to the back of her head along with a break in a socket of a hip joint.
She spent several years in litigation against Bridgestone, the company that manufactured the Firestone Wilderness AT tire that caused the accident.
“I hired an attorney on my behalf and I did a lot of research,” Rose said to the audience. “My lawyer allowed me to read and research all the documents about the case. I wanted to be fully involved and this allowed me to learn about the negligent and reckless behavior of the company. That tire was 14 years old, dangerously old. I learned that it went through multiple recalls.”
Rose said that the company’s attorneys tried to blame her for the accident.
“During the depositions, they were trying to blame me and they said I was a careless driver,” Rose said. “The CEOs of Bridgestone declared that their tires were superior and world-class levels. Ford and Bridgestone eventually blamed each other for the accident and that ended its more than 100-year relationship.”
Rose pressed on with the litigation and started a non-profit organization, the Auto Accident Survivors of Georgia.
The mission of the organization is to help raise awareness about auto-related safety and recalls.
“The companies needed to be held accountable,” Rose said. “I’m very thankful that we can direct resources for victims to advocate for safer roads and tires.”
Corporate influences on the Supreme Court
The keynote speech at the event was given by United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) who spoke about corporate influences on the Supreme Court.
“Houston, we have a problem,” Whitehouse told the audience. “That is the way Apollo 13 announced to mission control that things had gone wrong. I am here to say that we also have a problem. The problem is that we have a long campaign to capture our Supreme Court that has achieved fruition. The long campaign was fueled by a toxic combination of hot right-wing passions and cold corporate strategy. The hot right-wing passions were all fueled by decisions Miranda v. Arizona which gave criminals defendants unprecedented rights, Roe V. Wade, which gave women unprecedented rights, and Brown V. Board of Education which gave minorities unprecedented rights.”
Whitehouse said that “the cold corporate strategy was driven by business interests.”
“These business interests were spooked by the environmental movement, the civil rights movement and social changes that were happening in the late 1960s and 1970s,” Whitehouse said. “It’s a long story from then until now, but it culminates today with a judicial appointment conveyer belt that has enormous fingerprints to it. Including fingerprints from the anonymous funders of the Federal Society, who have long influenced judicial selection under President Trump, or the anonymously funded Judicial Crisis Network, who puts out political campaigns once they are in the confirmation process.”
Whitehouse went on to cite the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as a failure of the judicial system.
“There is an apparatus that exerts improper control in our judicial system,” he said. “If you look at the Kavanaugh nomination, you see it as a telling moment. In any ordinary situation, alligations like the kind that were credibly made against Judge Kavanaugh would have resulted in a quiet withdrawal in the nomination. But the determination of the forces seeking to capture the Supreme Court was so strong that all of it got tossed aside. The court is surrounded by dark money right now. I somehow doubt that we would not have learned about Justice Antonin Scalia’s billionaire-funded hunting trip had he not died on that hunting trip.”
Whitehouse implored the attorneys in the room to pay attention to what is happening in Washington D.C. and asked them to stay involved with activism.
“We have some work to do because we are not paying attention and we need to start calling them out,” he said. “Whether you consider ‘belling the cat,’ where you protect the mouse by putting a bell on a cat so wherever the cat goes, it can hear the bell. So you will know what is going on before being pounced on. You can also consider it as calling out the emperor for not wearing any clothes. These emperors have been walking around buck naked for quite some time now. If we don’t talk about this, if we don’t explain this to the American public, we’ll be in their gun-sights.”
For more information about The American Museum of Tort Law go to www.tortmuseum.org.