California Law Business – Mark Robinson and the Ford Pinto

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Remember the Ford Pinto‚ the egg-shaped economy ride that sometimes exploded when struck from behind? Mark Robinson Does.
He also remembers the look on the faces of the jurors who awarded $127 million to his client 13-year-old burn victim Richard Grimshaw‚ in 1978‚ based on a design flaw that led to the deaths of 27 people from fuel-tank fires in Pintos.
The jurors were outraged to learn that the Ford Motor Co. became aware of the risks of passenger deaths in 1971 yet waited until 1976 to move the Pinto’s gas tank from behind the rear axle to a safer spot above the center of the axle.
"Ford made a decision to place-money ahead of human lives‚" Robinson says‚ waving an Aug. 26‚ 1971‚ fuel system integrity memorandum. That damning piece of evidence advised Ford executives not to recall or re-design the Pinto "until required by law."
Thirty years later‚ Robinson charges‚ little has changed.
The automobile industry continues to place profits ahead of people‚ he says. In recent years‚ they’ve added a new weapon to their arsenal‚ according to the plaintiffs’ bar: protective orders granted by courts and genuflecting judges that keep corporate transgressions out of the public eye.
Recently‚ aided by lawmakers‚ consumer groups and the media‚ plaintiffs’ lawyers have begun firing back‚ asking courts to let the sunshine in to cleanse dirty little secrets like those behind the Ford Pinto.
The Colonel’s Secret Recipe and the formula for Coca Cola—the trade secrets on which corporate defendants rely to dose court files and discovery documents—are a far cry from the prescription for defective tires‚ Robinson says.
Once again‚ the automobile and tire manufacturers have placed public scrutiny directly on the courts.
First there was the hail of litigation from rollover accidents involving Ford Explorers equipped with "de-treaded" tires and the recall of 6.5 million defective…...

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