There are many causes of car accidents, such as gross negligence or recklessness, which could lead to some drivers being criminally charged, convicted and jailed. However, some West Virginia motorists who have been jailed might want to revisit their cases, because many people are finding that they were wrongly convicted for accidents that were caused by vehicle defects.
Since General Motors issued the massive recall in February 2014 for defective ignition switches in 2.6 million of its vehicles, one judge has erased the guilty plea that a now 25-year-old woman made for a 2010 crash that killed her 16-year-old passenger, citing new evidence. The defect made the woman lose control of her Chevrolet Cobalt and prevented the front air bags from deploying.
Another woman pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in 2004 for the death of her fiance, and her plea was reversed in 2014 after the crash was related to the GM defect. In May 2006, a then 18-year-old lost control of a Cobalt, and the air bags did not deploy, killing his 18-year-old best friend. He pleaded guilty to negligent homicide, served six months in jail and has since accepted a settlement from GM. He plans to ask the company for help in reversing the plea.
These are three of many cases stemming from the GM recall, but in 2014, automakers issued recalls for defects in 64 million vehicles, many of which have been on the road for 10 years or more. Drivers are often blamed and charged with serious crimes when crashes are unexplained, and they could wait years before finding out that defects were the real cause. Although the justice system is responsible for determining whether charges are appropriate, an increasing number of reversed pleas and overturned convictions indicates that prosecutors are not investigating the causes of accidents well enough.
When car accident victims find out that vehicle defects were the cause of their crashes, they may seek compensation from the automakers. They could get help strengthening their cases from personal injury attorneys, who could hire private investigators.