Auto Recalls Exonerating Convicted Drivers

California motorists may have heard that the massive recalls by General Motors, Toyota and other automakers in recent years are leading to the exoneration of drivers who were wrongly blamed for causing deadly car crashes. The actual cause of the accidents was undisclosed defective car parts.

In late August, a Pennsylvania judge erased the guilty plea of a young woman who lost control of her Chevrolet Cobalt and crashed in September 2010, killing her 16-year-old passenger. She claimed the car's steering and brakes suddenly stopped working but, on her mother's advice, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and reckless driving. She served three months in jail. However, the judge cited GM's 2014 recall of 2.6 million vehicles for faulty ignition switches as "newly discovered evidence" backing up the woman's version of events. Her lawyers are asking for a finding of "actual innocence." The prosecutors in the case have appealed.

So far, four people have used the GM recall and one person has used a Toyota recall as grounds to challenge their convictions. A Texas man was facing 20 years in prison for losing control of his mother's 2007 Saturn and smashing head-on into a pickup truck in 2011. The pickup driver, a 40-year-old father of five, was killed. However, the defendant's reckless driving charge was dropped last December when a private investigator linked the crash to GM's defective ignition switch. GM offered the defendant $70,000, which is the exact amount he spent in legal and private investigation fees. He declined the offer.

California residents who have been injured in a car crash linked to defective auto parts may benefit by speaking with a lawyer. One remedy could be to file a lawsuit against the negligent automaker seeking compensation for medical expenses, lost wages and other damages.

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