Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Fight Club Car Recall

In the film Fight Club, among the depths of monologue and conversation, the Narrator explains to another airline passenger how his employer, a major car company, goes about initiating a recall. The exact quote is: 

NarratorA new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one.
So boiling it down, there are the four variables.
A. Number of vehicles 
B. Probable rate of failure
C. Average out-of-court settlement
X. Cutoff number for a recall

Following the narrator's math, X<A*B*C or Recall<Vehicles*Probability*Settlement

Sounds terrible and mathematical right? If a business does this, we should boycott their clearly unethical behavior, right? Well, legally, this is not only ethical, but legal and expected behavior from any person. 

Welcome, to the wonderful world of negligence law. In particular, the formula the narrator describes is a rephrased version of the "Calculus of Negligence" or Hand Test. Now, lawyer's typically aren't good at math, so leave it to them to make a very basic Algebraic formula "Calculus." Here there are three variables:

B. Burden of taking Precaution
P. Probability
L. Loss

Applied, this formula comes out as B<P*L or Burden<Probability*Loss.

 Starting to look familiar? That's because this is the same formula the narrator rattled off. The probability multiplied by the number of the cars in the field gives you the total probability of loss in the field. The loss in this case is the average settlement, and as 97% of cases are settled out of court, using the average out of court settlement is completely fair. 

So was the car company evil? That's completely debatable from a moral perspective. Granted, they didn't beat people half to death, but they didn't do a voluntary recall to save some lives. However, legally, they were completely in the right, as long as their math was right.


  1. I liked how you explained that. Thanks.

  2. "Now, lawyer's typically aren't good at math,..."

    and "mathematician's" aren't good at punctuation...

    1. "Now, lawyer's[sic] typically aren't good at math,..."

      Thanks for that. Saved me the trouble. I spotted that and immediately laugh too.

  3. Hello, I have browsed most of your posts. This post is probably where I got the most useful information for my research. Thanks for posting, maybe we can see more on this. Are you aware of any other websites on this subject.
    old classic cars usa

  4. Even I was on the lookout for the same issue and just landed on this classic post. this has made a room in my heart. panel busters

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Great post. One of my favorite movies, and since I'm a big car junkie and work in car insurance in Saugus this was a great find. Thanks for sharing :).

    - JO

  8. I appreciate everything you have added to my knowledge base.Admiring the time and effort you put into your blog and detailed information you offer.Thanks. best car paint sealant

  9. I consider it pure, unadulterated evil... This hypothetical company, and real companies for that matter, are using pure mathematics vis a vis the bottom line to decide whether or not to continue to allow people to die at the hands of their faulty product.

    It's the notion of "Corporate Social Responsibility," a concept that's practically oxymoronic these days. Yes, large companies have the right to make profits, but they also have a responsibility to the local community, their employees, the environment, and society in general. I'm sure corporate America has found a way to mathematically eliminate the need for it, though.

  10. Its always fun to see two great things put together. Cars and good movies. Fight Club is one of the best movies ever and you can find the best car insurance company in Milton MA. Keep up with the good posts.

  11. Really quite impressive blog.Keep posting like this.a concept that's practically oxymoronic these days. Yes, large companies have the right to make profits, but they also have a responsibility to the local community, their employees.

    Work Injury Compensation

  12. Thanks for these all quotes please suggest me any best company as i got one best from Car Insurance UK :)