Ford Pinto and the Exploding Gas Tank, 1978

The Famous "Ford Pinto" Case

 "On the afternoon of August 10, 1978, just outside Elkhart, Indiana, three teen-age girls stopped for gas on their way to a volleyball game. The driver was Judy Ulrich. Her cousin Donna and her younger sister Lyn were passengers. They were in a 1973 Pinto. At the gas station, as Lee Patrick Strobel recounts in his book “Reckless Homicide?,” a history of the Ulrich trial, the girls accidentally left the gas cap on the roof of the car, and after a mile or so it slipped off and rolled across the road. Judy slowed down. There was a high curb along the side of the highway, so pulling off the road was impossible. She put on her emergency flashers. Coming down the road behind them was a van driven by a twenty-one-year-old man named Robert Duggar. He had two half-empty bottles of Budweiser next to him (although he wasn't under the influence), and he took his eyes off the road for a moment as he reached for a cigarette. When he looked up, the Pinto was ten feet in front of him. He could not stop in time. The Pinto exploded in flames. Shards of glass scattered in every direction. The car spun around and around, stopping a hundred and fifty feet from the point of impact. The fire reached almost thirteen hundred degrees, melting the sunglasses around Lyn's eyes. Lyn and Donna were killed instantly. Judy Ulrich lay in the grass with burns over ninety-five per cent of her body, crying out, “Help me. Please, help me.” She died eight hours later." - Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker, May, 2015 "How Do We Build a Safer Car?"

Perhaps no other case captures the imagination of the public and Indiana citizens more than the Pinto case because it hit so close to home in Elkhart, Indiana.

To the public, a car is either safe or faulty.

To engineers who build cars, every automobile design is a series of compromises.

If those compromises result in a series of accidents or mishaps, then it can result in a product car recall, if the mishaps can have a "traceable cause."  Auto manufacturers have committees to study all accidents.  Generally, these are engineers.  Engineers look at numbers and look to see if the numbers indicate a problem that needs to be fixed.

To engineers, car design is a series of compromises.

Newspaper headlines continue to cite the latest car manufacturer recalls over some design problem or defective product within the vehicle.

The types of defective vehicle claims in Indiana resulting in serious injuries or death can be caused by:

Defective Vehicle Design

Defective Airbags

Faulty Seatbacks

Defective Tires

Defective or Improperly Designed seatbelts

Flawed Manufacturing Process

Defective Windows

Lack of Crashworthiness

A vehicle defect can cause a vehicle to lose control resulting in injury.

Or a vehicle defect can contribute to a traffic accident whereby the lack of crashworthiness or other defects can cause severe injuries to the occupant or others.


Many cases involve roll over accidents whereby a person that is in a rollover accident has the roof crush downwards causing serious injury.

It is reasonably foreseeable that cars will be in accidents, therefore manufacturers have a duty to design cars that will be safe in an accident.

There have been numerous roof crush cases filed against Ford for the design of their older model Ford Explorers.

In order to prove a vehicle a has a defective design or manufacturing defect our Indiana product liability lawyers have worked with automotive experts across the country and in tandem with other lawyers such as accident reconstructionists, engineers, black box experts, vehicle dynamics and stability experts, professional drivers and former car manufacturer mechanics and employees.

These cases can be long and expensive as car manufacturers are very reluctant to admit fault.  But they can be won with innovative thought and embracing of new technologies.

If you believe you've been injured by a defective car part or design, call us.

Jeff Shaw has experience in handling automobile defect cases in Indiana.

Toll Free: (855) 343-8325.  It costs nothing to talk.

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