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Judge overrules car crash conviction, blames defective part

Though they are relatively uncommon, some serious car crashes are the result of mechanical error. Even an alert and considerate driver may not be able to avoid a collision if, say, the brakes suddenly fail.

This does not mean that someone hurt in a car accident must bear the resulting financial burden, just because the other driver was not at fault. If the mechanical failure was due to a defect that the driver could not have known about, the manufacturer could be the party the victim should seek compensation from.

In a local example, a Pittsburgh-area woman who pleaded guilty to criminal charges in 2012, two years after being involved in a fatal car crash, has had her conviction overturned in court recently. The judge ruled that a faulty ignition switch in the woman’s car was at least partially responsible for the death.

According to the Associated Press, the woman was going 75 mph in a 35 mph zone when she crashed into a school bus and utility pole. The crash killed a 16-year-old boy, and the woman later pleaded guilty to manslaughter and reckless driving. She was sentenced to one to two years in jail.

Three months into her term, her attorneys appealed. They argued that their client’s accident was caused by a faulty General Motors ignition switch. In 2014, GM recalled 2.6 million cars, similar to the defendant’s car, due to ignition switches that could cause sudden engine shutoff.

The defendant’s attorney said that his client was not responsible for the crash. Though she was speeding slightly before the accident, the car’s data recorder shows she slowed down to the speed limit, he said. That apparently jostled the defective ignition, causing her to lose control of the brakes and power steering. The airbags also shut off; an operational airbag could have saved the boy’s life, the attorney said.

Only those responsible for causing injury to someone should be financially liable. Those are the parties who should have to pay the victim’s medical bills, lost wages and so on.

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