Part IX: The Past, Present and Future

Ford’s Pinto Fiasco and Defective Product Cases

In 1972, Lilly Gray was driving her Ford Pinto when she was rear-ended by another car. Her Pinto immediately burst into flames, severely burning her and her 13 year old passenger, Richard Grimshaw. Gray later died of her injuries and Grimshaw required multiple surgeries over 10 years to recover.

Cars don’t normally burst into flames just from being rearended, and further investigation revealed a design flaw in the Pinto.

As it turns out, even a minor rear-end collision would cause the oddly placed fuel tank to be pushed forward, and possibly burst. This also came with the risk of spraying fuel into the passenger compartment, as well as the risk of sudden ignition.

Ford was absolutely and completely aware of this fact, and sold the Pinto anyway.

Repairing this design flaw would have cost Ford a total of $45.39 per car. After crash tests revealed the flaw and engineers informed them of the cost to rectify the flaw, Ford declined to implement the changes in order to save money on production.

The ensuing court case, Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Company became one of the best examples of defective product cases in history. The idea of a company selling products they know to be dangerous or deadly is repulsive at best, but it happens. Corporations unfortunately continue to put their profits over the safety of the same people who buy and use their products.

While many people would figure the Grimshaw case to be the shake-up we needed for safe consumer goods, it unfortunately was not. Actually, it’s been getting worse.

In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration issued recalls for 32 different medical devices found to employ faulty designs. Some of these devices were implanted in people’s bodies, where they failed and caused catastrophic injuries, turning people’s lives inside-out. This was just in the medical field; consumer goods as a whole have been seeing more and more recalls for faulty designs.

Take for example, the Hoverboard craze. These self-balancing scooters seemed fun at first, until they started bursting into flame while people were riding them. A design flaw in the toys’ batteries was causing them to overheat and ignite. What seemed like a fun ride at first ended up being a horror scene as people’s Hoverboards were exploding under them.

There’s nothing wrong with holding a manufacturer responsible for selling you a product they knew to be dangerous. Reluctance to do so goes back to the fallout from the Liebeck case, where people are fast to accuse plaintiffs of making a “cash-grab” when they were legitimately injured.

As we look back on the mounting piles of defective product claims, a question of accountability arises. If you don’t hold these manufacturers responsible, who will? People have become reluctant to litigate because of the fear of being mocked in public.

Moving forward, it’s important for you, the consumer, to do two things. First, you must conduct research. Has this happened to other people who purchased this product in the past, and are the cases well documented? Second, you must communicate openly with your lawyer. When you decide to seek legal representation, listen to your lawyer’s advice. When it comes to cases like this, most lawyers will be very upfront with you regarding the value of the case. Lawyers don’t like wasting your time or theirs, and if they tell you there’s a case there, there’s a case. If there wasn’t, they’d be very clear that the case isn’t worth the time to fight it.