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Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Company-an Ethical Analysis

Lily Grey who was aged about fifty two was on her just six-month old Ford Pinto in May, 1972. While crossing San Bernardino, her Pinto abruptly stopped in the middle lane of Interstate of California. Her Pinto was dashed by another car that trailed her car on the highway. Due to collision, the Pinto’s fuel tank got fired and the Pinto was completely burnt. Grey died in the accident and her accompany.

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Richard Grimshaw, who was Grey’s neighbor who accompanied Grey, sustained grave injury. Grimshaw sustained multiple burn injuries and due to that his body was mutilated.Despite of seventy rounds of surgery, Grimshaw looked horrible and permanently scarred.

It was argued on the plaintiff side that accident was caused due to poor design and placement of the gas tank. Relying on this fact, jury awarded the Grey estate $ 560,000 for causing wrongful death and granted Richard Grimshaw $2,516,000 as compensation and a whooping sum of $125 million as punitive damages. As a precondition for denial of a new trial, the punitive damages were cut down to “$3.5 million” by the court. The higher court affirmed the verdict of the lower court and the Supreme Court refused a hearing.

Thus, the famous Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Company case 119 Cal. App. 3d 757 (1981) depicts the issues related with injury law and injury culture. In 1970’s the public fury was specifically about corporate goals that motivated the Ford to evaluate the value of human lives lost due to Ford’s faulty design and the Ford’s subsequent conclusion not to carryout inexpensive enhancement to the design of the gas tank of its Pinto.

Is it necessary to employ risk/benefit analysis be employed where a fault in manufacture or design could result in either loss of life or causing grave bodily injuries , as what had happened in the Form Pinto Scenario?

In case of intentional injury made by defendants , whether this injury will fall under the kind of absolute or strict liability.

Between start of the trial of Grimshaw and final verdict in the appeal which run about eleven years, about 500 to 900 persons were killed in Pinto fire alone in U.S.A.

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Public fury was triggered when it was made known that Ford well knew even before the Pinto went into production about its propensity to burst into flames especially in low-speed rear end accidents. Further fury of public was aggravated when they were given to understand that it would have costed Ford just $2 to $12 per car to implement safety designs to prevent such fire during collision.

It was alleged that had the Ford inducted the safety design, it would have prevented a further death of 180 individuals and would have avoided 180 serious burn injuries. Unfortunately, Ford had deferred the design change mainly as a cost saving tactics. (Jain 40).

One confidential memo circulated by Ford among its employees suggested to delay the implementation of safety equipments until 1976 as it would save cost up to $ 21 million to Ford. One another Ford’s confidential memo stated that until required by the law, no further “fuel system integrity” changes would have to be implemented. Until 1977, due to hectic lobbying by the Auto industry, no further rigorous legal requirement was announced. However, the new Pintos that rolled out in 1977 were designed to cater the new product standards.

In “Brown v. Kendall , 60 Mass (6 Cush) 292 (1850)”

This was first land mark case where court considered whether an injury or harm was caused due to” deliberate, willful or lackadaisical. “

In “Crain v. Petrie 6 Hill 522 (ICY. Sup.Ct.1844), “ court taken into account whether the defendant could have undertaken some sort of preventive techniques in advance that could have anticipated and stopped the injury or harm.

In “Caterpillar Tractor Co V. Beck 593 P.2d 886 (Alaska 1979). “

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It was held by the court that a jury can make a verdict if the plaintiff establishes that design of the product nearly caused the harm and defendant did not able to prove that harm was not caused by his product design defect. In “Turner v General Motors Corp. 584 SW.2d 844 (Tex 1979) “the court held that “a product can be called as defectively designed if it creates irrationally harm by taking into account the usage of the product and the perils involved in its use.

Observations

Had the Ford made the retrofitting or redesigning, it would have incurred total estimated expenses of $ 138 million whereas it would have costed them just only $ 50 million to resolve the injury, death and damage to the property claims. Critics claim is it ethically correct to use cost-benefit analysis when it relates to human life. In fact, Ford valued a human life for just $ 207,750 only to arrive at its cost –benefit analysis.

The Pinto case illustrates the effect that corporate decision can have on lives of peoples. Pinto case raises various ethical issues. If we had been the deciding authorities, would we have reacted diversely? Though a corporate executive has an ethical duty both to the company and its shareholders, but they should not intend to harm the consumers with their defective products on the pre-text of cost –benefit analysis. In fact, good corporate governance should focus on public safety rather than their profit figures. ( Zalot et al 88).

An ethical question arises whether it is not worthwhile to spend just $ 11 per Pinto for safety improvements to save about 181 lives from charring to death and another 181 lives from suffering grave burn injuries in car fires each year? (Luban & Park 207).

For faulty product design and for having caused death and grave injuries, jury awarded the Grey estate $ 560,000 for causing wrongful death and granted Richard Grimshaw $2,516,000 as compensation and a whooping sum of $125 million as punitive damages. As a precondition for denial of a new trial, the punitive damages were cut down to “$3.5 million” by the court. The higher court affirmed the verdict of the lower court and the Supreme Court refused a hearing.

Ethical Issue Statement

Despite of caution and hue and cries made by various interest groups, Ford intentionally decided not to retrofit or redesign the Pinto’s gas tank which is vulnerable to fire in case of accident mainly on its cost-benefit analysis.

Had the Ford made the retrofitting or redesigning, it would have incurred total estimated expenses of $ 138 million whereas it would have costed them just only $ 50 million to resolve the injury, death and damage to the property claims. Critics claim is it ethically correct to use cost-benefit analysis when it relates to human life. In fact, Ford valued a human life for just $ 207,750 only to arrive at its cost –benefit analysis.

Though a corporate executive has an ethical duty both to the company and its shareholders, but they should not intend to harm the consumers with their defective products on the pre-text of cost –benefit analysis. In fact, good corporate governance should focus on public safety rather than their profit figures. (Zalot et al 88)

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An ethical alternate arises whether it is not worthwhile to spend just $ 11 per Pinto for safety improvements to save about 181 lives from charring to death and another 181 lives from suffering grave burn injuries in car fires each year? (Luban & Park 207).

The top echelon of the Ford Management, on the footing of some alleged cost –benefit analysis, resolved that it would be cost lesser in the long run to pay pecuniary damages for the accidental deaths and injuries than to remodel the Pinto and decided to keep quiet.

Had the Ford used the alternatives available, it would have saved further deaths and injuries to the consumers.

Thus, Grimshaw case is an eye opener to all the manufacturers who want to disregard their ethical responsibilities as regards to defects in design of their product.

Works Cited

Jain Sarah S.Lochlann. Injury. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006.

Luban David & Park College. Lawyers and Justice. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.

Pheasant Stephen. Bodyspace. New York: Taylor & Francis, 1996.

Zalot, Jozef D, Osb Guevin Benedict & Guevin Benedict .Catholic Ethics in Today’s World. Saint Mary’s Press, 2008.

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