Lawsuit says older Chrysler/Dodge vehicles have dangerous clutch safety interlock switches.

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Lawsuit says older Chrysler/Dodge vehicles have dangerous clutch safety interlock switches.

— A class-action lawsuit has been filed against the makers and distributors of a "clutch safety interlock switch" used in older Chrysler/Dodge vehicles with manual transmissions. The lawsuit, filed in Oklahoma federal court, accuses Stoneridge Inc., FTE Automotive USA Inc., and Arrow Manufacturing of hiding the facts about the switch.

Also included in the lawsuit as a nominal defendant is Old Carco, a name Chrysler used before its bankruptcy.

The lawsuit was filed about 10 days before FCA US (formerly Chrysler Group) announced a recall of 67,000 Dodge trucks to repair defective clutch ignition interlock switches. The recall was ordered after the reported death of a child who was hit by a Ram 3500. Another child was able to start the truck without pushing the clutch pedal and caused the truck to strike and kill the other child.

In January 2013, plaintiff Rickey Royal was standing next to his 2006 Dodge Ram when he reached in to turn the key backwards to activate the battery, but mistakenly turned the key forward. The lawsuit alleges even though Royal was outside the truck, the Ram started and then headed forward. Royal had to jump into the truck to get it stopped.

Royal took the truck to a Dodge dealer and the technician allegedly verified the clutch safety interlock switch was stuck in the closed position because of the spring inside the switch. That allowed the truck to be started without touching the clutch pedal. The dealer replaced the clutch safety interlock switch but Mr. Royal had to pay for part of the repairs.

The lawsuit further alleges the defective switch damaged the clutch master hydraulic assembly to the extent the assembly had to be replaced.

The plaintiff alleges the defendants committed fraud by concealing the defective clutch safety interlock switch, mainly based on the claim owners started complaining about the problems in 1999. In January 2000, the defendants met to discuss the switch but did nothing about the problems at that time.

The lawsuit alleges the defective switches were installed in more than 1 million model year 1997-2008 vehicles in the U.S.

The defect claim is based on evidence the return springs, which are used to open and close the ignition circuit when the clutch is applied, have design defects that can cause the switch to stay open or closed.

In the stuck-open position, the trucks could fail to start. If the switch is stuck closed, the truck can be started without pressing the clutch pedal. This is especially dangerous in trucks with manual transmissions because the truck is usually parked with the gear shifter left in gear when the engine is off. Turning the key could cause the truck to start and begin moving without warning, and all without touching the clutch.

The clutch safety interlock switch lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma - Royal v. Stoneridge Inc. et al.

Mr. Royal is represented by the Cowan Law Firm, and Hossley & Embry LLP.

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