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Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Co.

174 Cal. Rptr. 348 (Cal. Ct. App. 1981)

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Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Co.

California Court of Appeal

174 Cal. Rptr. 348 (Cal. Ct. App. 1981)

Facts

A Ford Pinto stalled on a freeway and was struck by the car behind it. The collision punctured the Pinto’s gas tank, causing the Pinto to erupt in flames. The driver, Lilly Gray, suffered fatal burns. A passenger, Richard Grimshaw (plaintiff), suffered severe burns. Gray’s heirs (the Grays) and Grimshaw (plaintiffs) brought suit against Ford Motor Co. (Ford) (defendant). The evidence established that the Pinto was designed with an unusually small amount of space between the gas tank and the rear of the car. During the Pinto’s development, crash tests showed that the car could not withstand impact at 20 miles per hour without damage to the gas tank. The evidence further established that Ford could have rectified the vulnerability of the Pinto’s gas tank through a number of relatively inexpensive design changes but that Ford’s employees—including its executives—were in a rush to bring the car to market. The trial court found in favor of Grimshaw and the Grays, awarding them compensatory damages of $2,516,000 and $559,680, respectively. Additionally, Grimshaw was awarded punitive damages in the amount of $125 million. Ford moved for a new trial, which was denied. However, the amount of Grimshaw’s punitive-damage award was reduced to $3.5 million. Ford appealed, contesting the applicability of punitive damages. Grimshaw cross-appealed, contesting the reduced amount of punitive damages. The California Court of Appeal granted certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Tamura, J.)

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