Farmers use anhydrous ammonia to fertilize their fields. The anhydrous ammonia reacts
violently with water, so care must be exercised in disbursing it. Farmers' cooperatives
rent anhydrous ammonia in pressurized tanks equipped with wheels, so the tanks can be
pulled by tractors. The farmers also rent or purchase hoses which connect the tanks to
perforated hollow blades that can be knifed through the soil to spread the ammonia. Leaks
from the hose are potentially catastrophic.
For years the industry standard hose was one made of steel-meshed reinforced rubber,
which was similar in construction to steel-reinforced automobile tires. Two separate trade
associations had established these industry-wide standards.
About 15 years ago a new, heavy-duty plastic became available that could replace the
steel in the hoses. The plastic-reinforced hoses were less expensive, lighter and easier
to process than the steel-braided rubber. The new hose met the industry standards. One
company, the XYZ Hose Company, began marketing the plastic-reinforced hose to farmers.
Officials of XYZ knew, as a result of tests run by a consultant at a nearby state
agricultural college, that the plastic did not react immediately to the anhydrous ammonia;
however, over the years the plastic did degrade and lose some of its mechanical
properties. Accordingly, they put warnings on all the hoses they manufactured, indicating
that they should be replaced periodically.
After the product had been on the market a few years, several accidents occurred in
which the XYZ hoses ruptured during use and blinded and severely injured the farmers using
them. Litigation followed, and XYZ argued in its defense that the farmers had misused the
hoses and not heeded the replacement warnings. This defense was unsuccessful, and XYZ made
substantial out-of-court settlements.
XYZ has since dropped this product line and placed advertisements in farmers' trade
journals and producers' cooperatives newsletters asking farmers to turn in their XYZ hoses
for full refunds. The advertisements stated that the hoses are "obsolete," not
that they are unsafe.
Identify and discuss the ethical issues this case raises, paying special attention to
relevant, key ideas presented in this chapter. What are the relevant facts? What factual,
conceptual, and application issues are there? What methods for resolving these issues
might be used?