It is not all that unusual these days to hear of a convicted murderer or rapist being granted a new trial or freed altogether based on new evidence, particularly new DNA evidence. Sometimes, the exonerating evidence was not obtained until after the conviction. In other cases, the evidence was there all along, but the technology of the day was such that the evidence could not be fully explained or understood. Although our criminal justice system is far from perfect, it does at least provide for the possibility of correcting a wrong in these situations.
There now seems to be a new trend emerging in the field of criminal law: reversals of vehicular homicide convictions based on new evidence that there was a defect in the car the defendant was driving at the time of the accident that led to the criminal charges. Late last year, a Texas woman had a criminal homicide conviction expunged after it was discovered that a faulty ignition switch may have been to blame in the accident that gave rise to her conviction. This month, a Minnesota jury tried a product liability lawsuit that arose after it was discovered that a defective gas pedal may have contributed to a 2007 accident for which a man had been convicted of vehicular homicide.
The Criminal Case
The plaintiff in the product liability suit was driving a 1996 Toyota Camry along I-94 as he traveled from Minneapolis to St. Paul. According to the plaintiff, as he exited the interstate he tapped on the brakes to slow the car down. Instead of slowing down, however, the plaintiff said the car began to accelerate. A multi-vehicle accident resulted, and two people were killed instantly. A third person died later, and several others were injured. Because of the high rate of speed at which the plaintiff was traveling at the time of the crash, he was charged with vehicular homicide.
The plaintiff was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison, even though he consistently maintained that a problem with the car’s accelerator had caused the accident. Eventually, he was granted a new trial after others came forward to say that they had experienced similar problems with their Toyota Camrys. The prosecutor declined to retry the plaintiff on criminal charges, and he was freed.
The Civil Case
The plaintiff and his family, along with the other family involved in the crash, filed suit against Toyota, alleging that a product defect – namely a faulty accelerator – caused the crash. Although the Massachusetts-based firm of Safety Research and Strategies reports that Toyota has settled several similar lawsuits, the case went to a jury trial. The result was a finding that Toyota was 60% at fault in the accident, and the plaintiff was 40% at fault. In all, the jury ordered Toyota to pay almost $11 million to those involved in the wreck, including the plaintiff and his family.
To Speak with an Attorney about Your Case
If the current trend continues, it is likely that even more criminal convictions associated with car accidents may be reversed. Product liability actions arising from accidents involving defective vehicles are also likely to increase. If you have been hurt in a car accident, you need a thorough and careful attorney who will look at all the facts of your situation, including any criminal charges that may have been issued and any product recalls concerning the automobiles involved in the crash. If you need an attorney in the Cape Cod area, give us a call at (888) 262-6664. We’ll be happy to set up an appointment to go over your case with you free of charge.
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