By on August 3, 2016

2015 jeep grand cherokee altitude side rear

The parents of Anton Yelchin filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in a Los Angeles court yesterday, alleging that the automaker knew about the defective gear shift design in their son’s Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Yelchin, the actor who played Chekov in the Star Trek film franchise, died in late June after his vehicle, equipped with FCA’s maligned Monostable shift lever, rolled down his driveway and pinned him against a gate post. The 2015 Grand Cherokee was found in neutral, with the engine running.

Yelchin’s vehicle was one of 1.1 million Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler products recalled by FCA in April to put a stop to roll-away complaints. A dealer document later revealed the automaker’s plan to install an “Auto Park” feature — basically, a reprogramming of four key control modules.

According to Bloomberg, the lawsuit alleges that FCA knew about the problems with the shift lever, which led some drivers to exit their vehicles after mistakenly believing the vehicle was in park.

The automaker responded to the lawsuit, stating, “FCA US LLC extends its sympathies to the Yelchin family for their tragic loss. The company has not been served with a lawsuit and cannot comment further at this time.”

FCA, which is also the subject of a class-action lawsuit, announced it would conduct a investigation into the incident following news reports of Yelchin’s death. The “Auto Park” fix was just rolling out at the time of the accident, and it’s believed Yelchin’s Jeep hadn’t undergone the repair.

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42 Comments on “Parents of Star Trek Actor File Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Fiat Chrysler...”


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    FCA should settle this out of court ASAP.

    It looks like they internally acknowledged a problem, and were attempting to fix it (good), but produced a poor design to begin with (bad). They could settle this one without accepting blame (in the legal sense).

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    I guess Anton never learned how to use a parking brake. Trusting that an automatic transmission is in park is a fool’s trick. It’s worth doing, but only as a backup to the parking brake.

    • 0 avatar
      dividebytube

      I picked up this habit from years of driving stick. When I had my automatic Scion, I would still pull up on the parking brake. Of course I was told in early years not to trust “the pin” of the park gear in an automatic transmission. And also to turn the wheels in when parking on a hill.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        Your honor, The plaintiff in this case has CLAIMED he was “givin’ her all she’s got, captain”, but the evidence will show conclusively that this indeed was NOT all she’s got.

      • 0 avatar
        wumpus

        I picked up this habit from finding my father’s car in the neighbor’s yard (twice)*. My understanding that it is recommended against, but old habits die hard.

        * he now lives with a *much* steeper driveway, but a larger flat part on top. Let another one go, and it is going a quarter mile (and hundreds of feet down) into a pond.

  • avatar
    Fred

    I’m not clear what the problem is here. The only electronic shift car I’ve driven is the TLX. It goes into park when you turn the car off or open the door.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      The monostable shifter physically returns to center after every selection (like a joystick), so you have to visually observe the gear indicator on the display to verify that you’re in Park.

      Since there is no physical shifter location feedback telling you the thing is in Park, it’s easy to step out of the car while it’s NOT in Park.

      It sounds like the new Auto-Park feature would work like your TLX.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      I don’t want it to go into park when I turn the car off OR open the door. I’ve been known to backup, with the door open, so I see very low items (a bolder near where I’m backing for example).

      If it went into park when I turned the car off AND opened the door, I’d be OK with that.

    • 0 avatar
      White Shadow

      And that’s how the transmission will operate once you bring the Jeep back to the dealer to have it “fixed”

  • avatar
    MLS

    I wish the media would stop calling the monostable shifter “defective.” Unconventional? Sure. Unintuitive, and potentially confusing? Fine. But the shifter, which by all accounts works exactly as designed, is simply not defective. Yelchin’s death was a tragedy, yes, but it was his own fault.

    That said, thanks to inaccurate reporting, there’s no way FCA can come out of this debacle looking good. Might as well just settle without admitting fault to make the story go away.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      On the same topic, it’s about time we re-classified the Hindenburg’s final voyage as a “Farewell Tour”.

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        Or an Autopilot jaunt as “Shear Ecstasy”.

      • 0 avatar
        MLS

        Please. I’m advocating accurate, responsible journalism, not euphemism nor whitewashing. Used correctly, FCA’s shifter is perfectly safe and reliable, i.e., not defective. It’s perfectly fine to question ZF and FCA’s decision to stray from long-established shifter design norms, but I don’t believe media coverage has placed nearly enough blame for Yelchin’s accident on the driver. Given the number of affected vehicles on the road, journalists ought to emphasize the operator error in the hopes of triggering owners to pay better attention when parking. Assigning blame to a “defective shifter” makes it sound like the transmission is liable to malfunction at any time, and there’s little drivers can do to prevent it, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          I would find your argument more credible if FCA hadn’t gone to the expense of recalling 1.1 million of these “perfectly safe and reliable” shifters.

          • 0 avatar
            MLS

            Emphasis on “used correctly.”

            FCA determined that too many owners weren’t using the shifter correctly, so the company devised a software update to better avoid operator error. (The existing chimes, warning messages, and shifter position indicators apparently weren’t enough.)

          • 0 avatar
            EBFlex

            VoGo, who made him run behind his moving, unsecured vehicle?

            See, not only did he get out of his vehicle while negligently not ensuring it was secure (not a fatal mistake), but he also then walked/skipped/ran behind it while it was rolling backwards (fatal mistake)?

            There are numerous safe guards in place to prevent an incident like this and he choose to not use them. He has a ‘park’ function. He has a parking brake. And he has common sense that tells you not to get behind an unsecured and rolling vehicle. To me, it sounds as if his judgement was impaired.

            To blame Chrysler is as logical as blaming the driveway contractor who installed the driveway on an angle.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            I don’t know what makes people do illogical things. I mean, the dude bought FCA, so all logic’s out the window.

        • 0 avatar
          brn

          MLS, unlike some, I completely agree with your assertions.

          For typically being folk that have taken a lot of writing courses in college, the media’s repeated [intentional?] misuse of nomenclature is deplorable.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      Wish away all you want for fairness…ain’t gonna happen.
      Its the way it is today.
      Media causes trump (intended) the truth. And regardless of the pushback you are getting from the usual suspects, there are statistics and studies done proving this.

      And what you are saying is simply true.

      I am trying to remember, but is it, as it was when I took driver ed classes, part of the lesson that the parking break is applied at every stop? Nobody in their really right minds would think an automatic transmission can or should hold on hills.
      Hell, we were even forced to turn the wheels to catch curbs on any hill side parking.

      Bu today, even an accident where nobody is at fault results in the big pocket squeeze.

      Even today, I use the floor break and the hand breaks on both my Escape and MKS, hill or no hill, simply because I hate the roll after taking my foot off the break pedal. That roll has got to cause damage. And the MKS rolls at even the slightest angle.

    • 0 avatar
      Bazza

      From a human factors standpoint, it could be forcefully argued that the design was faulty. You can ignore the human element and simply say “they have to learn the system”, but you do so at your peril. This applies broadly to business and industry as well as this specific case.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    OK, so the car appears to be blame…but wasn’t there a recall on this? I’d be curious to see if Yelchin’s car was fixed in that recall. I’m assuming it was, because otherwise the suit would be dismissed out of hand.

    • 0 avatar
      5280thinair

      I don’t think it’s that cut-and-dried. Assuming the owner received the recall notice, was it worded in such a way as to make the danger clear (e.g. “Drivers used to traditional automatic transmission gear selectors may inadvertently leave the car in gear or in neutral when they think they’ve selected park, and may therefore pose a risk of injury or death to the driver or others in the vicinity”)? If the recall notice was significantly less direct, or the dealers weren’t ready or had a backlog so the customer had to wait to get it fixed, a jury might well find in favor of the owner’s family.

      In the world of civil litigation there is no onus to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt.” It’s the plaintiff vs. defendant, and in a case like this the plaintiff’s legal team probably won’t have a hard time convincing a jury the deceased acted reasonably within the expectations of operating his motor vehicle. I suspect Chrysler will try very hard to settle as they won’t want any other similar plaintiffs to have this case to refer to.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      The family claims the recall notice arrived about a week after the incident.

    • 0 avatar
      EBFlex

      “OK, so the car appears to be blame”

      How so? He chose to exit the car and run behind it without securing it.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Probably stepped out to grab the mail or close the gate, vehicle didn’t start rolling right away, and when it did start rolling, the driver didn’t see it coming until it was too late.

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    Makes sense.

    Chrysler clearly made him negligently exit his vehicle before setting it and then Chrysler made him run into the path of his rolling vehicle (that he failed to secure).

    This is a frivolous lawsuit. Your kid died because he made a number of mistakes. Sad but true. Chrysler had nothing to do with it.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      Given how FCA fights every recall tooth and nail, the fact that they jumped to recall 1.1 MILLION vehicles is telling.

      Why are you such an apologist for a Dutch-English importer?

      • 0 avatar
        EBFlex

        I’m not an apologist. Just a realist.

        And I don’t know why they recalled the shifter. It works as designed and works extremely well.

        Just because Chrysler recalled the shifter doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do. If people cannot figure out such a simple shifter, then the complexities of driving are clearly too much for them and they should not be allowed to drive.

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          If you were a realist, you would recognize reality and stop using the term ‘Chrysler’ to describe a corporation. Those days are long gone.

          • 0 avatar
            EBFlex

            Well then by that measure we may as well just say that Jeep recalled the shifter.

            Nice to see you have logical retorts rather than just arguing semantics.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            But Jeep didn’t recall the shifter. Jeep is just a brand to con consumers into thinking that a Dutch-British import company is selling “American” vehicles.

            It appears to work.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    Earwig made him do it.

    I mean the guy was a weapons officer. He should’ve known how to secure stuff.

  • avatar
    jdmcomp

    Very like the shifter in the new Mercedes and I do find it a puzzle but had no problems because I know how to drive, period. I think this was a result of someone not pay attention to the task at hand. Dont care for FCA designs but this is not that bad.

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