In the particular case we talked about how poorly Ford handled the issue after it was reported and specifically how instances of catastrophic failure need to be dealt with differently. The biggest take-away was the fact that when people started making the claim that the gas tank being punctured was causing the fatal fires, Ford tried to flat deny and cover up the problem. I would bet personally the engineers were not doing that, although we specifically talked about ethically they should have come forward.
I do acknowledge your point of basically hindsight is 20/20, but I would argue that even though this problem was a "rare" occurrence it should have been fixed due to the possible result. I have had things like this come up just doing software (not so much to the fatal degree, though when working on HMIs that actually can become fatal software issues...) where we found a severe issue that was rare but would cause a complete failure.
In the admittedly limited instances when this occurred regardless of the cost we had to fix it. I had one such bug make it into production not long ago (it was even legacy code) and I spent literally 4 months working on it to find out it was a problem in the lower API we were requested to use to fit in with the customers system infrastructure. There was no hesitation to fix it either, we found it, knew it would be tough (was a thread locking issue) and had to dive right in.
To me it is very strange with automobiles how they seem to be held to a different standard as far as severe safety issues like that. If a civil engineer makes a mistake like that the engineer and their company will get sued back to the stone ages, but automotive gets a pass a lot of the time... The Pinto case is one of the examples where they actually had to pay for their serious mistake and terrible handling of it upon discovery.