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43 Rutgers L. Rev. 1013 (1990-1991)
The Myth of the Ford Pinto Case

handle is hein.journals/rutlr43 and id is 1027 raw text is: THE MYTH OF THE FORD PINTO CASE*
Gary T. Schwartz**
The    Ford    Pinto    case-Grimshaw         v.  Ford    Motor     Com-
pany-was decided by an Orange County jury in February 1978;
the jury's verdict was affirmed by a California appellate court in
May 1981.1 Last summer, more than nine years after this affirm-
ance, as I traveled from professional meeting to social occasion I
realized that the case was still being mentioned with a surprising
frequency2 and discussed with a surprising intensity.3 Indeed, last
summer the California legislature explicitly relied on the example
of the case as it considered a major new proposal.'
Having reflected on these invocations of the Ford Pinto case, I
have arrived at two general observations. One is that several sig-
nificant factual misconceptions surround the public's understand-
ing of the case. Given the cumulative force of these misconcep-
tions, the case can be properly referred to as mythical.
Secondly-and quite apart from           these misconceptions-there is
something about the basic narrative of the case that has captured
* This Article formed the basis of the Third Annual Lecture in the Pfizer Distinguished
Visitors' series, sponsored by Rutgers School of Law-Newark, with the support of Pfizer,
Inc., delivered by the author on November 14, 1990.
** Professor, UCLA School of Law.
The author is grateful for the comments of Rutgers faculty and others who attended the
Pfizer Lecture. Thanks also to Mark Ramseyer and Richard Sander.
1. 119 Cal. App. 3d 757, 174 Cal. Rptr. 348 (1981).
2. The social talk I then heard included indications that the case was being turned into
a motion picture. As I complete the revision of this manuscript in April 1991, Class Action
(Twentieth Century Fox) has just opened; the lawsuit portrayed in this movie borrows
significantly from the Ford Pinto case.
3. At a Brookings Institution conference on tort law in mid-June 1990, the Pinto case
was discussed by Professor John Graham. See Graham, Does Liability Promote the Safety
AND SAFETY 120, 128-37 (P. Huber & R. Litan eds. 1991). Two weeks earlier, at an Ameri-
can Assembly conference on tort law, the case was the subject of a heated exchange be-
tween Joan Claybrook and Peter Huber.
4. The proposal was signed into law in September 1990. CAL. PENAL CODE § 387 (West
Supp. 1991). See infra notes 24, 128, 133, 140 & 151. The Los Angeles County District
Attorney sponsored this legislation, and in doing so relied very heavily on the Pinto case.
See letters from Los Angeles District Attorney's Office to all Assembly members (Jan. 16,
1990); to all Senators (Aug. 20, 1990); and to the Governor (Sept. 4, 1990) (copies on file
with author).


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