The first law museum in the country is open to the public.
But a frequent critic of the local court system expressed some surprise that it wasn't constructed here.
"Illinois, and Madison County in particular, would be the ideal home for a museum dedicated to lawsuits," said Travis Akin, executive director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch (I-LAW).
Created by Ralph Nader and built in his hometown of Winsted, Ct., the American Museum of Tort Law is a shrine to the law of personal injury.
Featured exhibits include cases that attracted national attention - the scalding hot McDonald’s coffee case, exploding Ford Pintos and the Joe Camel ad campaign.
“It’s the first law museum in North America of any kind," Nader is quoted as saying in the Washington Post. . "There may not be another law museum in the world. It involves everybody. It’s not legal jargon. It’s fascinating stories.”
But what Nader calls fascinating, Akin calls frivolous.
“Ralph Nader is famous for bringing consumer product liability cases and in some instances, the things that he sued about were complete and outright lies – they weren’t true,” said Akin. “He kind of built a reputation of filing these outrageous lawsuits and finding new ways to try and push the envelope when it came to bringing lawsuits forward.”
Akin, whose group advocates for venue reform in Illinois, said the public shouldn’t be paying homage to the type of cases featured in the Tort Law museum.
“It’s not something we should be celebrating," said Akin. "It’s something we should remember as a real problem; certainly not celebrating the abuse of our legal system and the destruction of our economy."
Akin said that frivolous litigation wastes tax dollars in court, wastes the court’s time, and is a direct threat to businesses that could bring jobs to a state.
Nader, though, says tort lawyers are under attack. He told the Washington Post as tort lawyers become more successful in winning cases, blitzes against the practice by corporations and Republicans increase.
“The attack on civil justice is so brazen, turning trial lawyers into ogres,” Nader was quoted. “These are the people who don’t get paid until they win. They don’t create the hazards. Opponents call it ‘tort reform,’ but it’s an effort to dismantle it.”
Akin said there is definitely a place in America for a museum dedicated to tort law, but if he had his way it would be a lot different than the one Ralph Nader built.
“Yes, lets have a lawsuit museum and let’s make sure that is where the crazy lawsuits go – and no where else, so that we have a continual reminder of what life used to be like in the United States,” Akin said. “That would be my ideal situation, but the unfortunate reality is that this museum is more a reflection of what is currently happening in Illinois and places all across the country where our legal system is being abused.”
He said that examples of Madison County cases he would put into an abusive lawsuit museum would be one where an Alton woman sued the VFW because she was bumped on the dance floor by a fellow patron, and a class action suit from a few years ago where Blimpie subs was sued because the double meat subs did not have double the protein.
The American Museum of Tort Law opened Sept. 26.