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Automaker recalls could exonerate convicted drivers

In 2010, an 18-year-old Pennsylvania woman pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter for losing control of her Chevrolet Cobalt, causing a crash that killed her 16-year-old friend. However, in August, a judge tossed out her guilty plea due to "newly discovered evidence" that the accident may have actually been caused by a defective ignition switch in her vehicle, which was recalled by General Motors in February 2014.

The woman's case is the latest example of a potentially wrongly-accused driver using the massive recalls made by GM, Toyota and other automakers in recent years as grounds for exoneration. So far, four people have cited the GM recall and one person has cited the Toyota recall to challenge their convictions.

The Pennsylvania woman, now 25, was giving her friend a lift home from school when she claims the ignition switch on her Chevrolet Cobalt went into the accessory position, which cut off power to the brakes and steering. The car crashed and the air bags failed to deploy. Her passenger was instantly killed. On the advice of her mother, she pleaded guilty to reckless driving and involuntary manslaughter. She served three months in prison.

While the defendant's guilty plea has been vacated, the judge did not assign blame for the crash. Her lawyers are seeking a finding of "actual innocence." Prosecutors are appealing the judge's ruling.

Pennsylvania residents who have been injured in a car accident caused by the negligence of another party, such as an automaker, may benefit by consulting with an attorney. In some cases, it may be possible to file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party seeking compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and other damages.

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