Auto Accidents

Ford Pinto’s Real Legacy: Suffering and Death

By on June 27, 2016 - Comments off

This month, fans of the infamous Ford Pinto will gather to celebrate the car’s 45th anniversary at an annual event called the Pinto Stampede in Carlisle, PA. It’s a time for enthusiasts to share stories and bond over their love for Ford’s budget-friendly subcompact.

The Pinto, like all American cars, has a special place in American society. We naturally romanticize the nostalgia of our first car and our first taste of freedom. But as we look to the past through rose-tinted glasses, it’s important that we don’t let them obscure the truth.

So before we pop the champagne to toast the Pinto, we should take a sober look back at the true cost of Ford’s most shameful venture. The real legacy of the Ford Pinto is suffering and death. It is the ultimate cautionary tale of corporate greed. And so, to celebrate the Pinto is to celebrate human suffering.

The Ford Pinto is perhaps the most dangerous car ever created. A series of design defects caused the car to burst into flames in low-speed collisions. But disturbingly, the defects engineered into the Pinto were no accident. In Ford’s quest to make a lighter, cheaper car, the corporation deliberately cut safety corners.

In 1973, Ford’s engineers created a cost-benefit analysis outlined in what has come to be known as the “let them burn memo.” The memo outlined the actual mathematical calculation used by the company to weigh the cost of human life against the cost of implementing safety design in the car. It showed the company knew its actions would result in burns and deaths. Yet Ford triumphantly rolled out the Pinto anyway as, “The Little Carefree Car.”

There was nothing carefree about the victims of Pinto explosions and fires. The burn injuries are horrific. Those victims who weren’t killed were condemned to a life sentence of suffering.

In 1978, I had the honor to represent victim Richard Grimshaw in his negligence and injury case against Ford. Mr. Grimshaw, who suffered terrible burn injuries was awarded more than $128 million in the largest product liability verdict ever at the time.

There was no celebration for Mr. Grimshaw or his family. There was no celebration for the scores of victims killed and maimed by the Pinto. They do not remember the Ford Pinto fondly.

Facing mounting pressure by government regulators and lawsuits, Ford issued a voluntary recall of the Pinto in 1978. To his credit, Henry Ford’s grandson, Henry Ford, II, made the courageous decision to cease manufacturing the car in 1980. That decision is possibly the only thing we should celebrate about the Pinto legacy.

We don’t celebrate tires with treads that separate. We don’t celebrate toys with known choking hazards. We don’t celebrate dangerous cribs or high chairs. Instead, we should learn lessons from these products. And we should celebrate government regulation and the civil justice system that makes our products safer.

Celebrating the Ford Pinto is a morbid pursuit, akin to glamorizing a murderer. We should call the Ford Pinto what it was. At best, a horrible mistake. At worst, the natural result of reckless corporate greed.

Human life is not a cost to be calculated on a balance sheet. There is no acceptable number of injuries or deaths from a product. I hope that will be the legacy of the Ford Pinto.

If you want to remember the Ford Pinto on this 45th anniversary, read a list of the victims’ names. They’re the ones who shouldn’t be forgotten.

Mark P. Robinson, Jr. is the founder, senior partner and sole shareholder of Robinson Calcagnie Inc. based in Newport Beach, California. His practice is devoted to consumer safety law and he has worked on thousands of products liability cases, vehicle accidents, catastrophic injuries, dangerous drugs and class action litigation matters.


Statutory Offers to Compromise: Joint Offers

By on June 18, 2014 - Comments off

McDaniel v. Asuncion (2013) 214 Cal.App.4th 1201, 155 Cal.Rptr.3d 71

The wife and daughter of a man who was killed in a multiple vehicle accident brought an action for wrongful death against multiple defendants.  A jury returned a verdict in their favor against one defendant, but returned a defense verdict as to the only remaining defendant. The prevailing defendant filed a memorandum of costs to recover over $40,000 in expert witness fees, based upon the plaintiffs failure to obtain an award more favorable than a pretrial offer to compromise pursuant to C.C.P. § 998.

The trial court awarded the expert fees as requested, and the plaintiffs appealed, contending that the offer was void as a matter of law because it was made jointly as a single offer to two plaintiffs. The court of appeal reversed, holding that “although joint offers may be invalid… there is little, if any, justification for invalidating a joint offer in a wrongful death case”: Read the rest »


Respondeat Superior: Actual and Ostensible Agency

By on January 15, 2013 - Comments off

Monarrez v. Automobile Club of Southern California, (Second District, December 12, 2012) 149 Cal.Rptr.3d 457, 12 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 12, 895, 2012 Daily Journal D.A.R. 15,745

A man who suffered catastrophic injuries when he was struck by a hit and run driver while receiving roadside assistance for a flat tire, filed an action against the Automobile Club of Southern California. The complaint alleged that the tow truck driver, who was employed by a dba known as AM/PM Towing and Auto Repair, was inadequately trained and had negligently allowed the plaintiff to remain in a dangerous and vulnerable location of the freeway shoulder, contrary to industry practice.

The Automobile Club moved for summary judgment, contending that it had no duty to the plaintiff, in that the driver was an independent contractor and the contract with his employer expressly defined their relationship as such. The trial court granted summary judgment, finding that the Auto Club had no control of the manner or means by which the driver’s employer performed its emergency roadside service. However, the appellate court reversed, holding that the evidence raised triable issues of fact as to both actual and ostensible agency: Read the rest »

Posted in: Auto Accidents


Proposition 213: Unlicensed Permissive Users

By on August 2, 2012 - Comments off

Landeros v. Torres, (Fifth District, May 24, 2012) — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2012 WL 1869682

A woman who suffered severe brain damage when she was involved in an automobile collision, filed an action for personal injuries against the drunk driver who had collided with her vehicle. Prior to trial the defendant moved under Civil Code § 3333.4 to exclude any evidence of noneconomic damages, on the grounds that the plaintiff was an unlicensed driver who was operating her father’s vehicle at the time of the accident. The defendant argued that the plaintiff had never obtained any insurance on her own behalf, had never taken any driver training courses, and did not qualify for insurance.

The trial court denied the motion, holding that because the plaintiff was a permissive user under her father’s policy, § 3333.4 did not apply. The court of appeal affirmed a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff, rejecting the argument that the plaintiff’s unlicensed status prevented her from recovering noneconomic losses: Read the rest »