— The parents of actor Anton Yelchin have sued Fiat Chrysler (FCA US) over the death of Mr. Yelchin, 27, after a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee rolled backward and crushed the actor.
The wrongful death lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleging the electronic gear shifter used in the Grand Cherokee is defective and deadly, a gear selector unlike standard gear shifters found with automatic transmissions.
The "monostable" gear shifters have caused confusion with drivers who expect to "feel" if the shifter and transmission are in PARK.
An electronic lever always returns to the center position, which makes a driver look at indicators and lights to know if a transmission is in PARK or some other gear.
Represented by their attorney, Gary Dordick, Yelchin's parents sobbed when talking about their son and the event that took his life. According to investigators, Anton Yelchin was killed on June 19, 2016, when he exited the Jeep Grand Cherokee and apparently believed he had shifted the SUV into PARK.
Investigators aren't sure why Yelchin got out of the SUV or why he was behind it when the SUV rolled away and pinned him against a fence and the bottom of a brick mailbox.
Yelchin's parents said it goes against nature for a parent to bury their child, and they hope the lawsuit will make sure no other family has to go through what they have endured.
The lawsuit alleges Yelchin "lingered alive for some time, trapped and suffocating until his death."
Mr. Dordick alleges Fiat Chrysler knew about gear shifter problems as early as 2012 but chose to use the shifters anyway in the Jeep Grand Cherokees. However, by the 2016 models the shifter design was changed, something that came too late for Anton Yelchin.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, by June 2016 there were nearly 700 complaints filed about the gear shifters, in addition to reports of 68 injuries and 266 crashes. It's believed Yelchin is the first to be killed by a vehicle due to the allegedly defective shifters.
Attorney Dordick says a recall notice arrived seven days after Yelchin was killed, a recall that involves more than 1 million Fiat Chrysler vehicles to update software associated with the gear shifters. Included in the recall are the 2014-2015 Grand Cherokees and 2012-2014 Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 cars.
In a letter sent to Yelchin about the gear shifter, FCA said, "your vehicle may roll away, striking and injuring you, your passengers, or bystanders, if the vehicle's engine is left running, the parking brake is not engaged, and the transmission is not in the "PARK" position before exiting the vehicle."
Dordick alleges Chrysler didn't order a recall until people were injured, and now the automaker is in a hurry to get the SUVs repaired due to the death of Anton Yelchin. Mr. Dordick was clear the lawsuit was about one thing, and that was to punish Fiat Chrysler financially as much as a jury will allow.
Chrysler says the recall was ordered so Chrysler dealers could update software that would make the Jeep automatically shift into PARK if a door is opened while the engine is running.
"We want them made to know that that type of conduct, money and profits before safety, is unacceptable. They cannot wait for someone to be hurt and someone to be killed before they do the right thing."- Attorney Gary Dordick
FCA has always argued the shifters work as designed and each owner manual clearly instructs the owner about the workings of electronic shifters.
In addition to Chrysler, Dordick says the lawsuit targets the manufacturer of the electronic gear shifter, ZF North America.
The Yelchin lawsuit follows a class-action lawsuit filed against FCA over the monostable gear shifters. The class-action lawsuit alleges a gear shifter must let a driver know when the car is in PARK and when it's safe to exit the vehicle. At the least the car must have a safety override system that automatically puts the transmission in PARK when the driver-side door is opened and pressure is taken from the brake pedal.
According to the class-action plaintiffs, the gear shifters used in the affected Chrysler vehicles don't meet those requirements.