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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 76624 Find in a Library
Title: Corporate Homicide - Definitional Processes in the Creation of Deviance
Journal: Law and Society Review  Volume:15  Issue:1  Dated:(1980-81)  Pages:161-182
Author(s): V L Swigert; R A Farrell
Date Published: 1981
Page Count: 22
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: Using information from media accounts, this study shows how the expansion of legal parameters led to the precedent-setting indictment and trial of Ford Motor Company in 1978 on charges of reckless homicide.
Abstract: The charges in this case stemmed from the death of three teenage girls who suffered fatal burns when their Ford Pinto burst into flames following a low-speed rear-end collision. Media accounts provided the information used to explore the definitional processes which attended the indictment. Using the index to the Washington Post, all news items pertaining to the Pinto were identified for the period from 1970, when it appeared on the market, to 1978. Changes in the newsworthiness of the automobile were assessed in terms of the number of column lines devoted to a discussion of the vehicle over time. Content analysis was employed to depict the dimensions of public concern and corporate response and their changing nature in terms of danger (references to fires), intent (references to the company's knowledge of a problem and its unwillingness to rectify it, civil liability (Ford's responsibility), and criminal liability (explicit references to crime). Personal injury was believed to play an important role in shaping the parameters of the law; for example, the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 came only after 100 deaths resulted from a deadly elixir. Therefore, an analysis was made of the extent to which media accounts focused on personal, as opposed to mechanical, aspects of the issue. The findings showed that an emergence of a vocabulary of deviance, personalization of harm, and depictions of the corporation as nonrepentant. This suggested a shift from a definition of the situation as an imbalance of private interests to an offense against the community's moral sensibilities. Such collective indignation foreshadowed the creation of a new moral boundary, corporate homicide. Thus, the outcome was preceded by public redefinition of relevant actors and actions in terms of vocabulary traditionally reserved for conventional criminality. History of the issue of corporate liability is explored. Statistical data, footnotes, and about 50 references are included.
Index Term(s): Community relations; Corporate criminal liability
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