The Ethics of The Ford Firetrap:
An Analysis and Report Over The Pinto Cases
Meredith C. Tillery
ORGL 3322 Behavior, Ethics, and Leadership I
On August 10, 1978, three teenaged girls burned to death when they were hit from behind in their 1973 Ford Pinto on a highway in Goshen, Indiana which led to an Elkhart County grand jury charging Ford Motor Company with criminal homicide. Over the course of 20 weeks, a jury would have to decide if Ford had committed criminal homicide by consciously disregarding any harm their actions caused, and that the disregard substantially deviated from “acceptable standards of conduct.” In February of 1978 Grimshaw v. Ford, a civil case over a rear impact collision in 1972 which resulted in a woman burning to death and severe burn injury to a 13-year-old boy due to the Pinto's gas tank exploding was decided in favor of the plaintiffs. Mark Dowie, a journalist for magazine Mother Jones, covered the trial and in 1977 he published an article entitled "Pinto Madness" which claimed that the Ford Motor Company manufactured the Pinto knowing it was unsafe when struck from behind. The article claimed that the company's pre-production crash tests concluded that the vehicle's gas tank was very easily ruptured during rear end collisions and despite that knowledge Ford continued to manufacture the vehicle for financial reasons regardless of owning the patent on a safer gas tank. The article also claimed that Ford took measures to delay the implementation of Safety Standard 301 to keep from losing money on redesigning the Pinto. Their efforts included lobbying against the standard and use of cost-benefit analysis to justify not fixing the Pinto’s gas tank, which went as far as to claim in one report to the NHTSA that the $137 million it would cost them to make the Pinto's gas tank safer far exceeded the $49.5 million they would spend to settle lawsuits from the fires and explosions from the gas tanks thus making settling a more financially feasible solution than preventing the deaths in the first place. Dowie's article, along with the Grimshaw case, paved the way for the criminal charges against Ford in 1978. In the end, the case came down to what “acceptable standards of conduct" were.
Ford argued that the Pinto was not anymore unsafe than other subcompact cars in the market at that time, and met the government standards regarding vehicle safety because Standard 301 didn’t take effect until 1976. Furthermore, they argued that they set their own goal in making the Pinto’s gas tank safer in future models by performing its own crash tests with “bladders” in the gas tank. They argued that Ford decided to manufacture the Pinto in the best interest of American society by providing a competitive contender to the foreign manufacturers in the small car market thus saving American jobs and serving Ford Motor Company stockholders. They called engineers as witnesses who felt that the Pinto was so safe that they drove one...