The death of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin has raised concerns about recalled Fiat Chrysler Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs that pose a rollaway hazard. The actor died June 19 after his SUV rolled off the driveway and pinned him against a mailbox. According to a Reuters news report, U.S. regulators are now saying that there were 68 reported injuries and 266 crashes in vehicles involving these SUVs that have a type of gear-shifting control that has confused some consumers and led to rollaway incidents.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has said there were no deaths linked to the defect. But NHTSA acknowledged that Yelchin’s death may have been related to the defect that spurred the recall of 1.1 million Jeep Cherokee SUVs in April. About 811,000 of those were in the U.S. Investigators are still looking into the Yelchin case and whether the actor had received or seen the recall notice about his SUV. It is not known if there were any injuries or fatalities related to this defect outside the U.S.
The Rollaway Issue
FCA has not acknowledged the design flaw in its transmission gear selectors. But, the automaker has instead said that the rollaway incidents have occurred because drivers mistakenly believe they had placed the vehicles in park before getting out. NHTSA has said there have been 686 complaints linked to the recalled models so far including the 2014-15 Jeep Grand Cherokee, and 2012-2014 Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 with 3.6-liter engines.
NHTSA says affected vehicles have gearshift controls with an unfamiliar movement that does not provide visual or tactile feedback – something drivers are used to getting from conventional shifters. The recalled vehicles sound warning chimes and alert messages if the driver’s door is opened, the engine running and “park” not selected on the gear shifter. FCA said it will enhance the warning system and install computer software that will automatically place the transmission in “park” if a driver fails to do so and opens the driver-side door.
Class Action Lawsuit in California
Last week, a group of Jeep Cherokee owners filed a class action lawsuit against FCA alleging it concealed a shifter design defect. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in California also accused FCA of covering up incidents of property damage and injuries as well as its slow response to make repairs and address the issue. The plaintiffs are seeking compensation for the diminished value of the vehicles and an injunctive order against FCA to end its allegedly deceptive products. This lawsuit came days after Yelchin’s death.
If you or a loved one has been injured by the recalled Jeep Cherokees, please contact an experienced auto product liability attorney who has successfully handled similar cases. You may be eligible to receive compensation for your injuries, damages and losses.