Will Pinto trial spawn more suits?

Prosecutors differ with criminal defense and corporate lawyers on the impact of the unsuccessul Ford Pinto prosecution and on whether similar criminal cases would -- or should -- be brought against corporations, the National Law Journal reports.

"We'll see more prosecutions like this," said Robert Johnson Sr., president of the National District Attorneys Association and county attorney in Anoka, Minn. "A psychological barrier has been broken, and the big corporations are now vulnerable."

"Criminal prosecutions of corporations will not increase in these esoteric areas," said P. A. Heinen, vice-president and general counsel of the Chrysler Corporation in Detroit. "I have a feeling we have peaked in the wave of attempts to pound at the corporations in court."

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., a criminal-negligence bill aimed at corporations continued to wend its way through the subcommittee on crime of the House Judiciary Committee, the publication reported.

The bill, HR 4973, inspired in part by deaths attributed to alleged defects in the Pinto auto, would impose fines on companies and fines and jail terms on company officers who knowingly conceal hazards of products from their employees and the public.

"It's inconceivable that the wealth or position of a defendant would affect whether a prosecution should take place," Brooklyn District Attorney Eugene Gold said.

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