In 1972 a Ford Pinto, purchased six months prior, unexpectedly stalled on the freeway in California. The Pinto was hit from behind by a Ford Galaxy, erupting into flames instantly. The driver of the car, Lilly Gray, suffered from fatal burns and died a few days later in the hospital. The passenger, a 13-year old boy named Richard Grimshaw, was also severely injured from burns, which caused his face and body to be permanently disfigured.
After analyzing the cause of the crash, experts identified that there were significant design deficiencies of the Pinto made by Ford Motor Company and the company was knowledgeable of these deficiencies before launching it into the market for consumers. Richard Grimshaw and the surviving family members of Lilly Gray sued Ford Motor Company for negligence and strict liability. In the original verdict Richard Grimshaw was awarded $2,516,000 for compensatory damages and $125 million in punitive damages. The Gray’s were awarded $559,680 in compensatory damages.
Because of a motion filed by Ford Motor Company the punitive damages awarded to Richard Grimshaw was later reduced to $3. 5 million. Ford Motor Company appealed to the court claiming there were several errors during the trial including the misconduct of counsel and the high punitive damage ward given to Richard Grimshaw. Both Grimshaw and the Gray family cross-appealed both addressing the punitive damage issue. May 29, 1981, The Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division Two, affirmed a trial court judgment that the jury’s punitive damages award was reasonable.
During the trial there were four factors indentified that proved negligence and strict liability by Ford Motor Company. The design of the Pinto fuel system, the knowledge or failed crash tests by the Pinto prior to placing the car in the market, the Ford Motor Company cost benefit analysis, and the management’s decision to go forward and release the cars into the market even thought they knew of the defects and didn’t fix them. The Pinto was a product designed by Ford to meet the new consumer demand for a cheap and small car. The project was designed my a senior vice president of Ford, Mr.
Iacocca, where the objective was to design a car that weighed 2,000 pounds and the cost was $2,000. Because of the effort to manufacture a small vehicle Ford made the decision to prioritize design over safety. The company placed the gas tank behind the rear axle leaving less than 9-10 inches of crash space. Two characters of the vehicle that led to it being less crush resistant was the very small chrome bumper and the missing reinforced members known as hat members. There was also a line of bolts sticking out near the gas tank.
These design deficiencies is what caused the Pinto to erupt into flames. When the Galaxy hit the Pinto from behind it pushed the gas tank forward hitting the exposed bolts puncturing the tank and causing the explosion. The company held a series of different crash tests to prove the safety of the Pinto. In both the prototype and actual engineered Pinto, the car failed every test where the company did see the fuel tank pushed forward when the Pinto was hit from behind. Ford even modified the original Pinto to see what measures the company needed to take to meet the federal regulation standard.
In vehicles made before 1972 the government proposed a regulation that they needed to withstand a 20-mile- per-hour fixed barrier impact without significant fuel spillage and all automobiles manufactured after January 1, 1973, to withstand a 30-mile-per-hour fixed barrier impact without significant fuel spillage. Because of the failed crash tests the engineers redesigned the Pinto to analyze the potential increase in cost to make the Pinto crash safe. To implement the new design features the engineers came up with a cost of $15. 30.
This cost would enhance the design of the Pinto to supersede the proposed crash test government regulation and meet a 34-38 mile collision safety test. In the end, Ford released the Pinto into the market without addressing any of the defects. Harley Copp was a key witness in this case.
He was a senior engineer executive at Ford Motor Company and testified that senior management within the company was aware of the defects, was knowledgeable of the revised design to make the Pinto safer, but ultimately signed off on the original design and launched it into the market. This case has been recognized as one of the top civil trials in the country.
Issues The legal issue is: Should Ford Motor Company be liable for the car accident of it’s Ford Pinto which caused fatal burns to Lilly Gray and permanent burn injuries to Richard Grimshaw? Should Ford Motor Company pay historical punitive damages because of the car defects that the senior management was knowledgeable of before pushing it into the consumer market? Legal Rules Tort Law: A right of a private citizen to take legal action against an entity or human if harm has been caused. The issue within the legal action does not have to be against the law.
The primary goal of tort law is to require financial compensation to the individuals that have been harmed and deter future similar actions to happen. Negligence: This is a general category under tort law. It’s when a person or entity fails to act with care that is what we would define as a normal cautionary practice of care. It is being careless. Strict Liability/Products Liability: One of three general categories under tort law. This is where someone or an entity is strictly liable for the production of a product. Even when there is now intention to harm, there is still liability if the product causes harm to another.
Cost/Risk Benefit Analysis: “A cost benefit analysis is done to determine how well, or how poorly, a planned action will turn out. Although a cost benefit analysis can be used for almost anything, it is most commonly done on financial questions. Since the cost benefit analysis relies on the addition of positive factors and the subtraction of negative ones to determine a net result, it is also known as running the numbers. ” (About. com, Definition) United States vs Carroll Towing Co. : Judge Leonard Hand wrote the judgment, which set the standard for negligence in tort law.
It is at times referred to as the Hand Test. There was a chartered barge holding flour owned by the US. At a public and private pier there were many barges held together by a line. In process to releasing the Carroll Company barge the others tied up got loose and ultimately the barge holding the US owned flour sunk. There was no bargee on board during this accident, which could have prohibited the accident and loss of the flour. Because of this the Carroll Towing Company was not responsible for the loss of the barge because the bargee was absent.
Observations There was no government regulation or law requiring Ford Motor Company to uphold to safety when designing the Pinto. The government regulation discussed was only a proposal and one where it set a basic understanding of safety standard when designing a vehicle but there was no requirement by law to uphold to that standard. Ford explored the safety standard but ultimately decided that the cost to fix the Pinto defects was more than the cost to go with the original design and the chance of an accident causing harm to individuals.
The tort law was the only protection to a consumer in this case. If it wasn’t for the strict liability and negligence factors in tort law both Richard Grimshaw and the family of Lilly Gray would not have had any protection or rights to sue Ford Motor Company. Conclusion Given the facts of the case Ford Motor Company is liable for their product and the facts prove that the company was negligent and allowed the Pinto to be sold in the consumer market knowing that the defects could potentially harm individuals.
There is proof within the facts of the case that senior leadership at Ford knew the defects of the Pinto could cause severe harm to someone and also understood that the cost to fix the defects was possible. The cost was low to correct the defects and produce a safe reliable car. Ford Motor Company is liable for the death of Lilly Gray and harm done to Richard Grimshaw. The punitive and compensatory damages are fair.