Jeep ZF shifter focus of another lawsuit alleging the driver was injured when Jeep rolled away.

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Lawsuit: Jeep ZF Shifter Caused Grand Cherokee Rollaway
Jeep ZF shifter focus of another lawsuit alleging the driver was injured when Jeep rolled away.

— Another Jeep ZF shifter lawsuit has been filed against Fiat Chrysler (FCA US) alleging the electronic ZF shifters in Jeep Grand Cherokees and other Chrysler vehicles are dangerous and defective.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee ZF shifter lawsuit was filed by 69-year-old retired Massachusetts state trooper John J. Malone, who claims FCA could have prevented hundreds of accidents but chose to ignore the problems. Malone says he purchased the 2015 Grand Cherokee from a Massachusetts dealer in January 2016 for about $42,000.

The plaintiff began to notice the shift lever would not go into the desired position, such as when trying to move from PARK to reverse. Malone says when trying to shift from PARK to reverse the transmission would go into neutral, skipping reverse. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges the shift lever would often be difficult to move or would not move at all.

Chrysler installed the shifters, made by ZF Friedrichshafen AG, in 2012-2014 Dodge Chargers, Chrysler 300s and 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees knowing those shifters are completely different than typical shifters.

Normal shifters used with automatic transmissions use a gear selector based on "PRND" that provides a driver a distinct position of the shifter for each gear. The Jeep ZF shifters always return to a central location, so every gear selection feels the same to drivers.

Consumers have complained about confusion when shifting into PARK because going by the "feel" of the shifter location is useless. The only way to know if the transmission is in PARK is to look at the lights on the shifter or the dashboard.

By April 2016, the automaker had identified 700 field reports, 308 property damage claims, 212 crashes and 41 injuries. The lawsuit also mentions the death of actor Anton Yelchin who was killed when a Jeep Grand Cherokee rolled away and crushed him.

According to the lawsuit, on June 2, 2016, Mr. Malone parked a few feet away from a concrete wall and put his Grand Cherokee in PARK, pushed the ignition button to turn the car off and got out of the SUV.

Mr. Malone says always before, the radio would stop when he turned off the Grand Cherokee and opened the door. This time, as he stepped onto the ground he heard the radio still playing and with his left foot on the ground, the SUV started moving. He tried to hit the brake but the Grand Cherokee kept moving, pinning his left leg between the open door and the nearby concrete wall.

Malone suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and fractures to his knee that will require knee replacement surgery, scheduled for October 6, 2016.

In May of 2016, Mr. Malone received two FCA recall notices. The first indicated a problem with his Jeep’s brake pads, and a week later Malone received a second recall notice indicating there was a problem with the ZF shift lever that could result in rollaway incidents.  The notice said there was no permanent remedy for the problem at that time, but that Jeep hoped to find a remedy by the 4th quarter of 2016.

According to the lawsuit, FCA didn't do what other automakers have done and installed a safety override system to make sure a driver can't exit the vehicle unless it's in PARK.

The plaintiff says BMW uses electronic gear shifters with safety override systems that automatically shift the cars into PARK if the driver-side door is opened while the seat belt is unbuckled. Audi uses the same ZF shifter as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, but the Audi override system automatically engages the parking brake if the driver-side door is opened while the seat belt is unbuckled.

The Jeep ZF shifter lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts -  John J. Malone vs FCA US, LLC.

Mr. Malone is represented by Hagens Berman.


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