A 7-year-old Suitland boy who was injured and orphaned in the blazing crash of his family's Pinto will receive $600,000 from the Ford Motor Co. in a settlement announced yesterday.
Jeremy Norton, who now lives with an uncle and aunt, was 2 when the 1972 Pinto was struck from behind on Interstate 95 near the Pentagon in May, 1973.
His father was trapped inside as the fuel tank ruptured and burst into flames. Jeremy and his mother were pulled from the car by construction workers, but his mother died several days later of burns.
Jeremy lost six toes and still suffers from severe, deep burns on his legs that have required 15 skin grafts. He also must undergo several more orthopedic operations, occording to his attorneys.
The case is one in a nationwide series involving Pinto models that focus on the design of the car's fuel tank.
At least 59 persons have died in Pinto crashes that triggered fires since 1975, according to the Associated Press, and more than 20 lawsuits are pending. Settlements of more than $1 million have been awarded by juries in Florida, Alabama and California.
Ford announced in June that it would recall 1.5 million 1971-1976 Pintos and 1975-1976 Mercury Bobcats that are equipped with the controversial fuel tanks.But consumer advocate Ralph Nader has asserted that the modifications are not adequate.
Nader also accused Ford of delaying the recall in an attempt to reduce the number of cars involved. The recall was announced shortly before scheduled National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hearings that could have led to a government-ordered recall. The hearings were then cancelled.
The Norton boy had been awarded $657,000 by an Arlington Circuit Court jury in 1977, but both sides had appealed the verdict to the Virginia Supreme Court. The two sides reached a compromise on Aug. 17, before the court had decided to hear the appeals.
Ford had argued that Jeremy's father was at fault in the crash and the company should not be held liable. The company also said the trail court prejudiced the case by allowing in "irrelevant and prejudicial" crash test results showing the vulnerability of Pintos' in rear-end collision accidents.
The rush-hour accident occured on the first morning of traffic on a newly completed three-to-five lane stretch of the multi-level Shirley Highway mixing bowl. Mrs. Norton, 23, was a passenger in the car driven by her 25-year-old husband, Michael who was driving from their Alexandria home to his job at the downtown Woodward & Lothrop store, where he was a salesman.
Lynn E. Berry, lawyer for the boy, appealed on grounds that the trial judge had refused to allow them to seek punitive, as well as compensatory, damages.
Berry contended in arguments filed with the Supreme Court that Ford had deliberately failed to warn consumers of the potential dangers of the Pinto tank and had made a decision to accept deaths and injuries rather than correct the defect.