Car Safety Advances: The Ford Pinto and the Gas Tank

This is the first installment of a new Occasional Series detailing advances in automobile safety through the Civil Justice System

With the recent controversy over defective parts in Toyota automobiles, we here at Perenich The Law Firm felt it may be in order to let you know instances in the past where personal injury lawyers and car accident lawyers in our profession helped bring about important changes in car safety that were not previously regulated by the government.

The Ford Pinto

A picture of the Ford Pinto. PHOTO: AP File Photo (1976)

Many still remember the Ford Pinto from the 1970s and the legal issues that followed it. When designed, the gas tank was not placed above the rear axle (as was common at the time) but instead behind the rear axle. This placed it only 9 inches away from the axle, and left the tank extremely vulnerable to collisions from the rear.

In 1972, Lily Gray and thirteen year-old Richard Grimshaw were travelling in a 1972 Ford Pintowhen they were struck by another car travelling 30 miles per hour, and upon impact, their car burst into flames, in which Lily Gray was killed and Richard Grimshaw suffered severe injuries.

Ford Motor Co. had known about the design defects prior to this accident, and had commissioned a cost/benefit analysis to see what its options were. They determined that for only $11 per car (a total of $137 million for all of their affected cars), they could fix this potentially deadly defect. But, using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), they determined fixing these problems would result in a total of 180 less burn deaths, 180 less serious burn injuries, and 2,100 less burned vehicles. Using values from the NHTSA, the total “societal benefit” resulting from these changes would “only” amount to $49.5 million, and therefore it was not cost effective to proceed with the modifications.

Trial lawyers took Ford to civil court on behalf of the injured parties, but at the time, the fuel tank placement met all government standards. Technically, Ford had adhered to the regulations of the time. However, the courts found that Ford was indeed responsible to make a product that was free of preventable risks that could endanger individuals and society as a whole. The action brought through the Civil Justice System went on to spur new government standards that made cars safer for consumers.

At Perenich The Law Firm, we are proud to be part of the same Civil Justice System that has brought protection and peace of mind to every motorist on the roads in the country and here in Clearwater and the greater Tampa Bay area. As your personal injury and car accident lawyers, we will serve you in times when corporations willfully put you and your loved ones at risk, and through our combined efforts, help create a safer society for the rest of the nation as well.

Perenich The Law Firm

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