Legal Analysis Grimshaw V Ford Motor Company

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Legal Analysis
Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Company

Facts

In 1972 a Ford Pinto, purchased six months prior, unexpectedly stalled on the freeway in California. The Pinto was hit from behind by a Ford Galaxy, erupting into flames instantly. The driver of the car, Lilly Gray, suffered from fatal burns and died a few days later in the hospital. The passenger, a 13-year old boy named Richard Grimshaw, was also severely injured from burns, which caused his face and body to be permanently disfigured.

After analyzing the cause of the crash, experts identified that there were significant design deficiencies of the Pinto made by Ford Motor Company and the company was knowledgeable of these deficiencies before launching it into the market for consumers.

Richard Grimshaw and the surviving family members of Lilly Gray sued Ford Motor Company for negligence and strict liability. In the original verdict Richard Grimshaw was awarded $2,516,000 for compensatory damages and $125 million in punitive damages. The Gray’s were awarded $559,680 in compensatory damages. Because of a motion filed by Ford Motor Company the punitive damages awarded to Richard Grimshaw was later reduced to $3.5 million.

Ford Motor Company appealed to the court claiming there were several errors during the trial including the misconduct of counsel and the high punitive damage ward given to Richard Grimshaw. Both Grimshaw and the Gray family cross-appealed both addressing the punitive damage issue.

May 29, 1981, The Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division Two, affirmed a trial court judgment that the jury’s punitive damages award was reasonable.

During the trial there were four factors indentified that proved negligence and strict liability by Ford Motor Company. The design of the Pinto fuel system, the knowledge or failed crash tests by the Pinto prior to placing the car in the market, the Ford Motor Company cost benefit analysis, and the management’s decision to go forward and release the cars into the market even thought they knew of the defects and didn’t fix them.

The Pinto was a product designed by Ford to meet the new consumer demand for a cheap and small car. The project was designed my a senior vice president of Ford, Mr. Iacocca, where the objective was to design a car that weighed 2,000 pounds and the cost was $2,000. Because of the effort to manufacture a small vehicle Ford made the decision to prioritize design over safety. The company placed the gas tank behind the rear axle leaving less than 9-10 inches of crash space. Two characters of the vehicle that led to it being less crush resistant was the very small chrome bumper and the missing reinforced members known as hat members. There was also a line of bolts sticking out near the gas tank. These design deficiencies is what caused the Pinto to erupt into flames. When the Galaxy hit the Pinto from behind it pushed the gas tank forward hitting the exposed bolts puncturing the tank and causing the explosion.

The company held a series of different crash tests to prove the safety of the Pinto. In both the prototype and actual engineered Pinto, the car failed every test where the company did see the fuel tank pushed forward when the Pinto was hit from behind. Ford even modified the original Pinto to see what measures the company needed to take to meet the federal regulation standard. In vehicles made before 1972 the government proposed a regulation that they needed to withstand a 20-mile- per-hour fixed barrier impact without significant fuel spillage and all automobiles manufactured after January 1, 1973, to withstand a 30-mile-per-hour fixed barrier impact without significant fuel spillage.

Because of the failed crash tests the engineers redesigned the Pinto to analyze the potential increase in cost to make the Pinto crash safe. To implement the new design features the engineers came up with a cost of $15.30. This cost would enhance the design of...
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