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Auto recalls could let convicted drivers off the hook

Arkansas readers may be interested to learn that recent recalls by General Motors, Toyota and other automakers could lead to the exoneration of many drivers who have been convicted of causing deadly crashes. So far, five people have cited the recalls as grounds to overturn their convictions, and the trend is expected to grow.

In August, a judge vacated the guilty plea of a Pennsylvania woman who spent three months in jail for a 2010 crash that killed her 16-year-old passenger. Her lawyers successfully argued that GM's February 2014 recall of defective ignition switches backed up her claim that the steering and brakes on her Chevrolet Cobalt suddenly stopped working, causing her to lose control of the vehicle. They are now asking the judge for a finding of "actual innocence."

There is also the case of a Texas man who was charged with manslaughter for a 2011 crash that left him with a traumatic brain injury and no memory of the event. The man, who was 19 at the time, was driving his mother's 2007 Saturn to a Bible study near Houston when the car veered out of control and struck an oncoming pickup truck head-on. The pickup's 40-year-old driver, a father of five, was killed. Prosecutors claimed that reckless driving was to blame for the crash, but a private investigator was able to link the accident to GM's faulty ignition switch. The charges were dropped. Both the exonerated man and the family of the pickup driver are suing GM.

Car accidents cause thousands of injuries each year. Arkansas residents who have been injured in a crash caused by a negligent party may benefit by retaining a lawyer. It may be possible to file a personal injury claim against the responsible party seeking compensation.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Drivers Convicted, Jailed for Crashes Now Blamed on Car Defects," Margaret Fisk, Sept. 2, 2015

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