The Ford Pinto Case

9308 words 38 pages



Christopher Leggett

Law & Valuation

Professor Palmiter

Spring, 1999


Text of Paper



The cases involving the explosion of Ford Pinto's due to a defective fuel system design led to the debate of many issues, most centering around the use by Ford of a cost-benefit analysis and the ethics surrounding its decision not to upgrade the fuel system based on this analysis.


Should a risk/benefit analysis be used in situations where a defect in design or manufacturing could lead to death or seriously bodily harm, such as in the Ford Pinto
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Within the scope of this paper, this cost/benefit issue (and associated sub-issues) will be the focus of discussion. Other issues, such as the ethics involved in Ford's decision, the choice of prosecuting Ford criminally, whistle-blowing, the assignment of punitive damages and the Court of Appeals decision reducing the damages are all important issues of this case that will not be the focus herein.

II. Facts

A. Incident Facts

On August 10, 1978, three teenage girls stopped to refuel the 1973 Ford Pinto sedan they were driving. After filling up, the driver loosely reapplied the gas cap which subsequently fell off as they headed down U. S. Highway 33. Trying to retrieve the cap, the girls stopped in the right lane of the highway shoulder since there was no space on the highway for cars to safely pull off the roadway. Shortly thereafter, a van weighing over 400 pounds and modified with a rigid plank for a front bumper was traveling at fifty five miles an hour and stuck the stopped Pinto. The two passengers died at the scene when the car burst into flames. The driver was ejected and died shortly thereafter in the hospital. Inspecting the van shortly after the accident, the police found open beer bottles, marijuana and caffeine pills inside.6

The subsequent proceedings were


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