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  • Level: GCSE
  • Subject: Maths
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Legal and Ethical Analysis of Ford Pinto

Extracts from this document...


MBA C601

Legal and Ethical Analysis of Ford Pinto

Derek Koga




On Tuesday August 9, 1977, Herbert L Misch, vice president of environmental and safety engineering at Ford Motor Company (Ford), read an unfavorable article entitled “Pinto Madness” published by Mother Jones magazine (1).  This self-styled radical magazine had cited ford “secret documents’ which, according to the author, proved the company had known for eight years that the Pinto was a “firetrap” (2).

The article claimed that preproduction rear-end crash tests had revealed the dangerous nature of the design and placement of the car’s fuel tank (3). The magazine article claimed that Ford was so anxious to get the car on the market that it decided design changes would not be made and would “take too much time and cost too much money” (4). The article further charge that Ford had used “some blatant lies” to delay enactment of a government safety standard that would have forced Ford to change the Pinto’s “fire-prone” gas tank (5). The article concluded: “by conservative estimates, Pinto crashes have caused 500 burn deaths to people who would not have been seriously injured if the car had not burst into flames” (6).

Nothing in Ford’s records supported the contentions made in the article. Nevertheless, Misch knew that the overall effect of this Mother Jones’ article, one that relied heavily on the testimony of a former Ford engineer, could be highly damaging to the company (7). It would also sharpen consumer criticism of the US auto industry in general and Ford in particular. Misch and his associates at Ford were angered by the allegations and are ready to denounce the article as “unfair and distorted” (8).

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Is it legal to refute warrantable products?


Legal Issue 1 & 2

The law of products liability is found mainly in common law, state judge-made law, and in the Uniform Commercial Code. Article 2 of the UCC deals with the sales of goods and it has been adopted by most states. In it, the most important products liability sections are the implied and express warranties of merchantability in the sales of goods §§ 2-314 and 2-315 (ILL).

Products liability refers to the liability of any or all parties along the chain of manufacture of any product for damage caused by that product. This includes the manufacturer of component parts, at the top of the chain, an assembling manufacturer, the wholesaler, and the retail store owner, at the bottom of the chain. Many states have enacted comprehensive products liability statutes. These statutory provisions can be very diverse such that the United States Department of Commerce has promulgated a Model Uniform Products Liability Act (MUPLA) for voluntary use by the states. There is no federal products liability law (ILL).

Since that time, businesses have operated under an understanding that because they knowingly market products which affect the interests of consumers, they owe a legal duty of caution and prudence to consumers. Since manufacturers may foresee potentially harmful product effects, they are responsible for attempting to minimize harm.

Establishing this legal duty between the manufacturer and the consumer made it possible for plaintiffs to argue the negligent breach of that duty. These principles are now accepted throughout the country and followed by all American courts. Eventually, the concept of "inherently dangerous" products fell into disuse and the concept of negligence was expanded beyond production to include labeling, installation, inspection, and design.

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It was also ethically obligated to warn customers of the inherent dangers of rear-impact fires in small cars with this type of fuel system design and to offer customers the choice of paying more for increased safety. A Ford education program might well have encouraged a more focused consumer movement to compel industry-wide standards that would have ensured all manufacturers produced safer small vehicles. Ford, which would have done a service to the consumer at large, would also face a level playing field among its competitors.

As a moral musing, it would be interesting to make Ford managers and engineers drive the Pinto, or be on the receiving end of a rear-end collision. Ford’s protracted failure to acknowledge the safety risks in its Pintos is especially troubling from an ethical standpoint. Ford and its managers appear utterly cut off from the real human beings who lived and died in their products. They should be compelled to personally apologize to the victims’ family members for making a terrible decision and a defective product which killed or injured their loved ones.


Davidson, D. (1984). Managing Product safety: The Ford Pinto. Harvard Business School, 383-129.

(1) Ibid.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Ibid.

(6) Ibid.

(7) Ibid.

(8) Ibid.

(9) Ibid.

(10) Ibid.

(11) Ibid.

(12) Ibid.

(13) Ibid.

(14) Ibid.

(15) Ibid.

(16) Ibid.

(17) Ibid.

(18) Ibid.

(19) Ibid.

(20) Ibid.

(21) Ibid.

(22) Ibid.

(23) Ibid.

(24) Ibid.

(25) Ibid.

(26) Ibid.

(27) Ibid.

(28) Ibid.

(29) Ibid.

(30) Ibid.

(31) Ibid.

(32) Ibid.

(33) Ibid.

(34) Ibid.


Wikipedia. (n.d.) Product Liability. Retrieved on February 3, 2007 from  


Beasley, D.J. (2000). Product liability: manufacturing defects vs. design defects. FindLaw library. Retrieved February 3, 2007, from http://library.lp.findlaw.com/articles/file/00752/003315/title/Subject/topic/Injury

(LII) Legal Information Institute. (n.d.) Products liability law: an overview. Legal Information Institute.  Retrieved February 3, 2007, from http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/index.php/Products_liability

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