I believe that Ford was absolutely to blame in the Pinto case. All those that were involved in the decision making had knowledge of the potential problems, the actual problems, and knew of the ways to fix them. Most of all, however, is the fact that the decision directly affected the safety and welfare of human beings. Their decisions were literally about life and death. Ford used a cost-benefit analysis to justify their decision making. The key point is that one of the factors they were weighing was human deaths and the cost if they were to keep the original design! They found that it was cheaper and more cost effective to risk more lives than to fix the problem. This is grossly immoral, especially following the lines of Kant’s rational. Kant believed that “every human being has an inherent worth resulting from the sheer possession of rationality.” (Shaw and Barry, p. 64) No decision can compromise the life of a human being, and that is what makes Ford’s decision immoral. I’d like to know how many of Ford’s decision makers or engineers that knew of the problems actually drove the un-modified Pinto. Cost-benefits analysis is a good business tool when used in a morally legit context. For example, if a software company decides to develop a program and realizes that it has several critical bugs. They determine through cost-benefit analysis that to initially fix the problem would cost more than to release it as is, even though it would cause period crashes and IT headaches. This would be a moral decision because it does not pose a safety problem or pose a threat to human life. It may cause headaches and may be a poor product, but that’s the business decision. Other businesses would have an opportunity to do better. If the software causes problems that may arise in lawsuit, then let the courts figure it out; but I would determine that the decision was not immoral because it was a matter of quality that does not put human life in danger. A company can decide the quality of their products to the extent that it harms human life. If a consumer doesn’t like the product, they can look elsewhere for a better one. In the case of the Pinto, however, it would be too late because they would be dead.
I don’t think the American industry is at too much risk of lawsuit. Many businesses have proved that they are willing to stretch the line to make a profit. Without the possibility of lawsuits hanging over their head they wouldn’t have an incentive to follow ethical codes. It is good in many cases for these lawsuits to occur, first because it brings justice to people who were deceived or who were victims of poor, unethical decisions. And second because it will hopefully make company managers think ethical before making a serious decision. I’m sure many people who are in business or management can relate that many times decisions are made so as “not” to get sued. Which is usually a good thing, but can sometimes be counter-productive if the actually laws that the company doesn’t want to break are immoral or too strict themselves. The problem is that sometimes the regulations can go too far into dictating the course of business instead of trying to promote ethics. When it gets to this point the laws themselves become unethical.
The problem with litigation is that there seems to be no moral standard that governs decisions. Companies like McDonalds can get sued if they don’t have a warning that the coffee is hot, which most people would think to be common sense. They can also get sued for people becoming too fat, but we know that the people are the ones who made the decision to over consume on the well-known fatty products. There is a point when consumers also need to accept responsibility. In the case of the Pinto, however, I don’t believe there were any warnings put out to the public that the car had a higher risk of explosions when struck form behind. Actually, Ford, through lobbying and other tactics, made sure they passé all government regulations. This made it more deceptive and goes to shoe that government regulations or legal statutes don’t decide what is moral. Moral regulations need to base on natural law, not on majority decisions. Kant’s Maximin rule is a great starting point for this as it starts everyone on an even playing field and forces them to make decisions based on natural law.