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Corporate Crime: The Price of a Life

Updated on August 31, 2012
Ford Pinto: an actual death trap
Ford Pinto: an actual death trap

Reasons white-collar crime seems 'cool'

  • White-collar criminals are glamorized in movies and television as the good looking charmer with lots of wealth.
  • Those publicly sanctioned for white collar crime are typically high profile, elite, individuals, who under normal circumstances would be respected and admired.
  • Regarded as 'smart crime,' attaching a positive trait to the criminal.
  • As a society, we care more about having money than how one got the money.

How much are you worth?

Ford put a price on a human life; they set the supposedly “priceless” sum at 49.5 million dollars. This sum resulted after the car company realized their pinto actually blew up when rear-ended because of a faulty piece shielding the gas tank. They needed to know the cost of a life so they could weigh it against the cost to recall and fix the $11 part on all Pintos. Records indicate the total estimated cost of this recall at 137 million dollars. Ford thought with the sole intention of gain, picking the cheaper option of the two, deciding to postpone the recall another few years to save some 20 million estimated dollars.

Come 1977, these estimated deaths started calling Ford into the court room. Ford argued their car was no less safe than any other auto of comparable size. Although found guilty in the end, it doesn’t take long for a mega corporation like Ford to bounce back.

A look at the victims of white-collar crime

Richard Grimshaw was only 13 years old when he was forever changed because of Ford’s budgeting decision. Driving down Interstate 15 near San Bernardino, Richard rode in the passenger seat of his neighbor’s Ford Pinto.

Suddenly, Ms. Lily’s Ford stalled and the car behind them, traveling at 35 MPH, plummeted into the back of the pinto, prompting it to explod in flames. Lily was killed on impact, Grimshaw was left with burns over 90% of his body.

Judy, Donna, and Lynn Ulrich were close as can be, family and friends all wrapped up into one. None of them were over eighteen when Ford took their chances at life. Realizing that their gas tank had come off, the girls pulled over on the side of the freeway. Before given a chance to fetch it, a car slammed into the back of the girl’s pinto causing the car to implode, killing two of the girls on impact and ejecting a third, who also died shortly thereafter.

Families were torn apart, changed forever all because of a companies cost-analysis, the grief and anger they must have felt is unimaginable. These were the lives Ford decided were too costly to save, cheaper to lose.

Survivor Richard Grimshaw had his life, but he also had 70 surgeries to undergo as well as a legal battle against a company bloated with power. At first Richard was awarded a whopping 124.8 million dollars but Ford fought back. All the while, Grimshaw and his mom were taking on multiple jobs to pay medical bills and stay afloat. In the end a judge dramatically reduced Ford’s fine to only 7.5 million dollars. Is that any way to say sorry Ford? Richard Grimshaw himself sure doesn't think so, while he doesn't want to sound unappreciative for the money granted to him, he says, "It could have been more.... But there was no punishment. It was no sweat to Ford." And he's right, the cost Ford planned to pay in the event of a death turned out to be cheaper than the recall, as stratigically planned.

Today, we happily buy Fords; drive them off the lot feeling great for numerous reasons, like fueling the American economy. For the most part we trust Ford, we assume that they have us- the consumers- best interest at heart. Has the Pinto incident not taught us the cost of a life is all too often worthless in the checks and balances of an all-mighty corporation?

I’m not suggesting that everyone stop trusting Ford, they have proven themselves a strong company and they do a lot of good for this country. The decisions made in the 1970’s are entirely separate from the management decisions made today and heck, we all know what it’s like to crunch numbers and be forced to make cuts in cringe worthy places. The rationalizations for Ford have come forth from the public, as we see the cars popularity continues.

Speaking of rationalizations, take the recent explosion over Benard Madoff, a man trusted by many and singlehandedly he robbed them all. Given a much harsher sentence than Ford, Madoff will never see the light of day again. In a recent issue of Marie Claire, Andrew Madoff and his fiancé, Catherine Hooper, are photographed and interviewed; portrayed as gorgeous and vulnerable, a class above criminal. They have a chance to defend their family, save face with their point of view. Regardless, just take a look at the victims Madoff has sabotaged, destroyed, and all for his own lavish greed.

But do we really have less respect for petty street criminals?

This same dignity will not be shed upon a woman arrested today in Idaho, Ms. Melinda M. Campbell. Arrested for selling prescription medications, there is no background information to be found about Campbell or her situation. What drove her into the drug trade? Perhaps she’s just a greedy woman who deserves her fate, but what if she’s desperate to feed her family, unable to find a job just like so many others out there. All we may ever know is that Campbell’s own set of rationalizations steered her to sell pills, and unfortunately she will likely never get a five page spread in a glossy magazine where her side of the story can be shared. She won’t get a book deal for the chance to make millions; in fact she might be sheer out of chances once released. With a criminal record, jobs are even harder to come by, potentially forcing Campbell back to the same line of work that got her incarcerated in the first place.

Petty street crimes are most often committed out of desperation be it for life, food, shelter, or respect- most are cries for help met with slaps and further suppression. In order to commit white-collar crime you technically need money making it logical to stereotype white-collar crime as a product of greed, nothing else.


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    • Becky Bruce profile imageAUTHOR

      Becky Bruce 

      6 years ago from San Diego, CA

      I will have to check that you, thanks for sharing :)

    • LetitiaFT profile image


      6 years ago from Paris via California

      Hi again, I just have to tell you, by an extraordinary coincidence, the very day I commented on this hub, my husband brought home an old Gene Hackman movie called "Class Action" which is clearly inspired by this story! The film was not great, but serves as a popular illustration of this type of policy. Worth seeing if you come across it. Cheers

    • Becky Bruce profile imageAUTHOR

      Becky Bruce 

      6 years ago from San Diego, CA

      I really appreciate all of the support you offer, you inspire me to continue posting hubs LetitiaFT! :) Thanks

    • LetitiaFT profile image


      6 years ago from Paris via California

      Oh Becky Bruce, I wish I could vote you not just up, but for President. Thanks for another terrific, insightful article.


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