Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 has nothing on the explosive Ford Pinto. In the 1970’s, the Ford Pinto became a notorious fixture on the evening news due to reports of exploding fuel tanks and burn deaths. Ford’s Pinto also remains a textbook example of how companies sometimes put profits ahead of lives. It also remains an example of how trial lawyers and their clients help uncover harmful business practices.
The story begins in 1970, when Ford started rear-end collision testing on the Pinto. Of the 11 tests Ford carried out, 8 resulted in gas tanks exploding. Tests showed that the Pinto’s gas tank was prone to rupturing and spilling gasoline underneath the vehicle. Now, this was not just a little bit of “spillage.” The contents of the entire gas tank could leak out within one minute after rupturing! To make matters worse, the tank was also prone to being punctured by nearby brackets and bolts.
These problems meant that minor collisions could cause the Ford Pinto to explode into a giant fireball.
Where Did Ford Screw Up?
With less than a year to go before the car hit the market, Ford engineers began looking for ways to fix this defect. A cost-benefit analysis revealed that Ford would have to pay $11 per vehicle to reinforce the Pinto’s gas tank; a cost of $137.5 million. Ford’s analysis also concluded that wrongful death and personal injury claims caused by the Pinto would cost $49 million.
How did Ford respond to this calculus? It decided it would be more cost-effective to pay the settlements from claims instead of fixing the gas tanks.
In 1974, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began receiving reports of explosions involving Ford Pintos and rear-end collisions. Investigations revealed that drivers showed no signs of blunt force trauma. Many victims burned to death inside their cars after their doors jammed and they became trapped.
Estimates suggest 23 to 500 people died as a result of Ford Pinto gas tank explosions. Ford engineers later gave testimony during lawsuits claiming 95 percent of these deaths could have been prevented if the gas tanks had been located over the axle.
What Happened with the Ford Pinto Lawsuits?
Between the years of 1971 and 1978, Ford was hit with 50 lawsuits involving injuries or deaths caused by the Ford Pinto. Some of the stories involving accidents are heartbreaking.
In the case of Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Co., the jury tried to award $125 million in punitive damages; however, the damages were reduced by a judge to $3.5 million. A simple review of the facts of this case explains why the jury was so mad at Ford.
In 1972, 13-year-old Richard Grimshaw was badly burned after riding as a passenger in a Ford Pinto. The Pinto had stalled on a freeway, and a 1962 Ford Galaxie approached from behind and was unable to slow down in time to avoid a collision. In a matter of seconds, the Pinto burst into flames. By the time emergency services had pulled Grimshaw and his driver out of the vehicle, their clothing had been burned off their bodies. The driver of the Pinto was taken to a nearby hospital where she died a few days later from severe burn injuries. Grimshaw survived, but the horrific burns he sustained caused severe disfigurement.
How Trial Lawyers Hold Companies Like Ford Accountable
Trial lawyers and their clients play an important role in exposing companies that release defective products. Without lawsuits, we may have never known the full extent of Ford’s actions involving the Pinto. Ford engineers may not have given sworn testimony that 95 percent of those killed by the Pinto would have survived if only the company had moved the gas tank. We may not have known about the ruthless calculus conducted by Ford when it weighed fixing the gas tank with paying settlements from lawsuits.
Most important of all, these types of lawsuits make it cost prohibitive for a company to knowingly sale defective products. Personal injury lawsuits hold companies accountable and keep businesses from harming the public. Lawsuits put Ford, and other companies, on notice that it is never an acceptable business plan to knowing endanger people’s lives.
The Texas trial lawyers at Mike Love & Associates, LLC are dedicated to helping the victims of defective products and negligent business practices.