Jeep Sued on Heels of ‘Star Trek’ Star’s Death

           SACRAMENTO (CN) — Jeep Grand Cherokee owners sued Fiat Chrysler in a class action Thursday over the defective gearshift believed to have caused the death of “Star Trek” actor Anton Yelchin.
     Lead plaintiff Deryl Wall claims that FCA — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles — knew about but failed to fix the defectively designed gearshift that has been linked to hundreds of driverless rollaway incidents.
     The gist of the lawsuit is that the gearshift can cause drivers to believe the car is in park, though it is not.
     Despite its claim to put “safety first,” Fiat Chrysler “put style and profits first, and as a result there have been hundreds of accidents, dozens of injuries, and likely the death of a young, talented actor,” the complaint states.
     The affected vehicles include 2012-14 Dodge Chargers and Chryslers 300s, and 2014-15 Jeep Grand Cherokees.
     Chrysler recalled more than 1.1 million of the vehicles in April after it found that the gearshift could cause accidents.
     Whereas most vehicles have a gearshift that causes a stationary car to remain stationary unless a driver wants the car to move, these vehicles use an electronic mechanism that never actually shifts into any gear, but stays in a central location after being engaged, the lawsuit says.
     The confusing gear selector leads drivers to believe that the vehicle is in park when it is not, which can result in a vehicle rolling away and injuring or killing someone, as is believed to have happened to Yelchin, the plaintiffs say.
     Steve Berman, whose firm filed the lawsuit, said the gearshift is dangerous because “it does not have a safety override that automatically puts the car in ‘park’ if the driver’s door is opened and pressure taken off the foot brake.”
     “In making these vehicles, Fiat Chrysler failed at adequately and responsibly designing one of the most basic safety features — the gear shifter,” Berman said.
     In its recall, Chrysler said the problem stemmed from driver error: drivers leaving their cars without selecting “park,” despite warning chimes and alert messages if the driver-side door is opened while the engine is running and “park” is not engaged.
     An “investigation suggested that these measures may be insufficient to deter some drivers from exiting their vehicles without selecting ‘PARK,’ so FCA will enhance the warnings and transmission-shift strategy on these vehicles,” the automaker said at the time of the recall.
     The problem made national headlines when 27-year-old Yelchin, best known for playing Chekhov in “Star Trek,” was crushed by his Jeep outside his Los Angeles home on June 19. Police said the actor’s Jeep rolled down his driveway and pinned him against a mailbox pillar in front of his home.
     Yelchin’s vehicle was among those subject to the recall.
     More than 300 other accidents connected to the defective gearshift have been reported, the lawsuit states.
     Despite Fiat Chrysler’s initiation of the voluntary recall, it only sent a warning letter to owners describing the design defect and has yet to actually fix the problem, according to the complaint.
     “FCA’s unreasonable delay in fixing the defect and its warning letter was obviously too little, too late for Mr. Yelchin, and nearly a million defective shifter vehicles remain in unsuspecting owners’ driveways and garages,” the complaint states.
     Fiat Chrysler said Wednesday that it has a fix and it will begin notifying owners about scheduling software upgrades. The automaker originally estimated that a remedy for the shifters would be available in July or August.
     Also this week, the automaker’s Maserati brand recalled 13,000 vehicles for similar issues. The recall affects certain 2014 model Maserati Quattroporte and Bhibli vehicles.
     The company said in documents filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it had not received any complaints from Maserati drivers, nor any reports of rollaways in the affected models.
     A Fiat Chrysler spokesman told Courthouse News the company cannot comment because it has not yet been served with the complaint.

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