A Pennsylvania woman recently had her involuntary manslaughter conviction reversed by a court. The reason: Her attorney presented new evidence that an automotive defect caused a crash that resulted in the death of a passenger in her car.
As this case shows, losing control of your vehicle can readily happen when you are driving a vehicle with a defect, and it can carry disastrous consequences for yourself and others. The problem is that you may not be aware of this defect until it is too late.
As the Associated Press reports, the Pennsylvania case involved a faulty GM ignition switch – a defect that led to a massive recall of 2.6 million General Motors (GM) vehicles in 2014.
The woman’s attorney presented the court with evidence from her vehicle’s event data recorder, or “black box.” The data showed that, even though she had been going 75 mph five seconds before her accident, her speed had dropped to 35 mph three seconds later, when she swerved to avoid a crash, the AP reports.
According to the AP, the woman’s attorney argued that, when she swerved, the ignition switch moved to an “off” position, causing the engine to lose power. As a result, the woman’s car lost its brakes and power steering, and its air bags did not deploy.
The woman’s attorney successfully argued that evidence about the defect was not known before, when the woman pled guilty to the charge against her, because GM had not yet issued a recall.
Automakers, Regulators Often Wait Too Long to Take Action
GM’s faulty ignition switch may be one of the most highly publicized automobile defects in recent history. However, it is far from the only auto defect that has caused safety issues for motorists in Florida and across the country.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the federal agency receives, on average, per year:
- 600 vehicle recalls
- 20 tire recalls
- 8 child restraint recalls
As an article from February 2015 in the New York Times states, nearly 64 million vehicles have been recalled in the past three years alone due to safety flaws.
In addition to the GM ignition problem, another major issue during the past year has involved Takata air bags, which have been installed in a wide range of vehicles. When deployed, the air bags can send shards of metal flying into the car, it has been found.
It is truly shocking that, in many cases, the automotive company or auto parts manufacturer must be pressed to take action. As the Times states: “Of the 803 vehicle recalls, 123 resulted from NHTSA investigations or contacts with automakers.”
In other words, automakers often seek to avoid negative publicity and to take responsibility. They fail to issue a safety recall when one may be clearly merited, and even then, they may not give the full story.
For example, Fortune recently reported that 124 deaths have been linked to GM’s faulty ignition switch defect. However, GM initially stated that the defect was responsible for only 13 deaths.
Unfortunately, in an investigative piece, the New York Times reported that the NHTSA can also be slow to identify automotive defect issues and often is reluctant to go after the companies who have sold defective cars to consumers.
According to the Times, its investigation revealed that, in some instances, “the agency did not take a leading role until well after the problems had reached a crisis level, safety advocates had sounded alarms and motorists were injured or died.”
As a Consumer, You Can Protect Your Safety and Your Legal Rights
As a consumer, you can take certain steps to protect yourself from the harm which can result from an automotive defect-related accident.
One key step is to be on the alert for recalls and safety issues. The place to start is the NHTSA’s SaferCar.gov website. It has an abundance of information, including:
- Recent recall information – You can find out whether your vehicle, tires or your child safety seat has been recalled for safety reasons in two ways. One way is to search chronologically and look for recalls that have been issued within the previous six months. As you can see, each recall entry contains information such as:
- The automotive part that is the subject of the recall
- Number of units impacted
- A summary of the problem
- Safety risks that the defect poses to consumers such as an engine stall that increases the risk of getting into a crash
- What you can do in response to the recall such as contacting your local dealer to arrange for a cost-free repair.
- VIN lookup – Another way to search for recall information is by entering your car’s vehicle identification number (VIN). This can be especially helpful if you bought a used car and are not sure if it has a feature that prompted a recall, and if you do not know whether the defect was repaired. You can as far back as 15 years in your search.
- Alerts – You can sign up to receive e-mail alerts when the NHTSA issues recall notices.
- Complaints – If you have encountered a problem with your vehicle, a tire or a child safety seat, you can file a complaint with the NHTSA. In other words, you can personally play a role in bringing a safety issue to light and forcing a manufacturer or the NHTSA to respond to the issue so that you and others are protected. Using the NHTSA’s search tools, you can also find out whether others have made similar complaints.
However, as we mentioned above, there could be instances in which a safety defect has not been acted upon by auto manufacturers or by the NHTSA.
This is why, if you have been in a crash, you should take steps to protect your legal rights by contacting an experienced Orlando car accident attorney. A car crash attorney can review your case, investigate it to determine whether an auto defect played a role and help you to determine and pursue your legal options.