Ethical Conduct

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Instructor’s Guide Lesson #1 Case Study #1: The Ford Pinto 1) At the end of the previous class, a) Divide the class into groups containing 3 or 4 students each. b) Pass out assignment sheet shown on p. 2 (file “fordread.doc”). c) Mention to the students that in the next class they will be performing a case study concerning engineering ethics. State that participation in class is extremely important. Also state that in ethical issues there will be many different aspects of an issue to consider and there may be more than one “correct” answer to a particular question. d) Emphasize again the importance of the students’ reading the assigned material prior to the next class (you may mention that there will be a short quiz at the beginning of the next class). e) Also emphasize the importance of the students’ discussing within their group the questions at the bottom of the assignment sheet prior to the next class. These questions will be part of the discussion taking place in the next class. 2) At the beginning of class, you may wish to give the short quiz shown on p. 3 (file “fordquiz.doc”). This is a 5-minute quiz, graded pass/fail, designed to see if students read the assignment and retained the major points. 3) During class, conduct a discussion for each of the seven discussion questions given at the end of the assignment sheet. Comments you can use to stimulate discussion, provide focus, and summarize the discussion are given in red in the teacher’s version of the assignment sheet, pp. 4 - 7. Key conclusions for the case are given at the top of p. 4. 4) In the last 5 minutes of class, ask students to summarize the case study and the day’s discussions. Again, key points are given at the top of p. 4.

Appendix A

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Case Study Number 1: The Ford Pinto
Pre-class preparation: I. Read the following World Wide Web pages. You will want to print a copy of each page for the in-class discussion. 1. http://www.mojones.com/mother_jones/SO77/dowie.html “Pinto Madness” Before you begin reading the page, call up and print all the links with this article (the links contain important charts and tables). 2. View the quick-time movie in the above web page. 3. http://www.motherjones.com/mother_jones/SO77/larsen.html “Safety Last” 4. http://www.motherjones.com/mother_jones/JF94/tulsky.html II. Some legal background: Most of the lawsuits against Ford were civil suits for actual and punitive damages, but one case involved criminal charges. In Indiana a rear-end collision between a van and a Pinto caused a fire which killed three teenage girls in the Pinto. Ford was subsequently tried in Indiana for the criminal charge of negligent homicide (this is the trial mentioned in the second web page). There were no accompanying civil suits for this particular incident because, at the time, Indiana law severely limited the amount of damages which a parent could recover for the death of a minor child (no punitive damages were allowed and actual damages were limited to the lost wages which the minor might have earned in the time between his/her death and age 18). Many argue that Ford was acquitted of the negligent homicide charge because the standard of proof in a criminal charge is much higher than the standard of proof in a civil charge (reasonable doubt vs. a preponderance, or balancing, of the evidence). The most damaging civil case against Ford was Grimshaw vs. Ford, a California case in which a jury awarded $150 million in punitive damages (later reduced to $6 million on appeal). Discussion Questions: 1) Is it ethical for a company, such as Ford, to perform cost-benefit analyses when lives are involved? 2) As a society we often perform cost-benefit analyses involving lives. For example, we do not require overpasses to be built at all railroad crossings, even though we know that an occasional fatal collision will occur if we do not. How is this different from what Ford did? 3) Do you think that the public was adequately informed concerning the...
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