In the wake of hundreds of roll-away accidents, Fiat Chrysler has issued a voluntary recall for some 810,000 vehicles installed with a confusing gearshift system.
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Fiat Chrysler has recalled more than 810,000 vehicles over a confusing gearshift system that has been blamed for causing a number of serious “roll-away” accidents. Dozens of drivers have already been injured and several fatal accidents, including the death of actor Anton Yelchin, have been attributed to what federal officials suggest is a design defect.
The recall, made public on April 22, 2016, came only two months after officials at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration expanded their ongoing investigation into Fiat Chrysler’s Monostable electronic gearshift assemblies, installed in thousands of the manufacturer’s Chrysler Charger and Chrysler 300 vehicles, along with some Jeep Grand Cherokees.
To date, the following vehicles have been included in the recall, a measure voluntarily undertaken by Fiat Chrysler:
The Monostable gearshift system, which Chrysler began to roll out in 2015, features an unintuitive design that has baffled many drivers. Some vehicle owners have exited their running cars, under the mistaken belief that the vehicle is in park, only to have their car begin rolling backwards. Dozens of drivers have already suffered injury in the resulting “rollback” or “roll-away” accidents. While Fiat Chrysler has now recalled the affected vehicles, many observers have called the response wholly inadequate. In fact, the company has been under a federal consent decree since 2015 for failing to address significant safety issues in a timely manner.
Two months before Chrysler’s recall, federal officials at the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said they had received 314 complaints about the problem, including details on at least 121 crashes caused by vehicle roll-aways. At the time, up to 41 personal injuries had been reported, including 7 injuries severe enough to warrant hospitalization.
Though the characteristics of these injuries have not been fully reported, at least 3 individuals suffered fractured pelvic bones. One driver sustained a ruptured bladder, while another was left with broken ribs. Subsequent investigations conducted by Fiat Chrysler found that none of the vehicles implicated in personal injuries had experienced equipment failures, suggesting that the design of the Monostable E-shift system may be to blame.
For decades, gearshift systems have all worked in the same way: simply push the handle to its desired position, wait for the shifter to lock into place and go about your business. In the recalled Chrysler vehicles, however, the gearshift doesn’t remain in place after being put into park. Instead, the handle snaps back to a central position, rather than offering a driver the traditional sensation of changing the vehicle’s gear. As the NHTSA wrote in investigation findings,
“although the Monostable gearshift has the familiar appearance of a conventional console mechanical gearshift assembly, it has an unfamiliar movement that does not provide the tactile or visual feedback that drivers are accustomed to receiving from conventional shifters.”
As a result, many drivers have been left with the impression that their vehicle is in park, despite the car actually being in neutral, drive or reverse. While the cars are outfitted with a chime meant to ring when a driver opens their door while the vehicle is not in park, “this function does not protect drivers who intentionally leave the engine running or drivers who do not recognize that the engine continues to run after an attempted shut-off,” according to federal officials.
If you or a loved one suffered injury in a Fiat Chrysler roll-away accident, you may be entitled to significant financial compensation. In fact, several notable lawsuits have already been filed against Chrysler, along with auto retailers and ZF America, the company responsible for designing the Monostable E-shift system.
One such claim, a wrongful death lawsuit, has been filed on behalf of Anton Yelchin, the actor known for his portrayal of Chekhov in a recent series of Star Trek films, who was killed in a roll-away accident in 2016.
On Sunday, June 19, 2016, friends discovered Anton Yelchin pinned between the gate to his home and his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Investigators at the Los Angeles County coroner’s office found that the car had rolled down the steep incline of Yelchin’s driveway shortly after the 27-year-old had exited the vehicle to open his security gate. Crushed between the gate and his vehicle, Yelchin died within a minute of impact. The cause of death has been ruled as “blunt traumatic asphyxia.”
While the actor’s Jeep was among the 1.1 million Fiat Chrysler vehicles recalled in April 2016, none of the cars had yet received repairs at the time of Yelchin’s death. Only four days later, however, Fiat Chryler announced an “accelerated” schedule for recalls, saying vehicle owners would begin to receive notifications about a software update within the week.
Yelchin’s parents soon filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler, along with AutoNation, the retailer that had sold Yelchin his vehicle. ZF America, the company that designed the Monostable E-shift system, is also named as a defendant. The Yelchin family has demanded punitive damages for what they consider the “wrongful death” of their son, accusing Fiat Chrysler and a local car dealership of selling vehicles with “significant defects.” While the case remains in litigation, Fiat Chrysler has denied any responsibility in the death of Anton Yelchin. Instead, the company has placed all blame on the late-actor himself, saying the car malfunctioned due to Yelchin’s own “misuse, misapplication or damage” to the Jeep Grand Cherokee, according to the Daily Mail.
In their product liability lawsuits, victims accuse Fiat Chrysler of delaying its recall. The company’s “foot-dragging” response, writes one plaintiff, allowed injuries and deaths to continue unnecessarily.
Indeed, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has sanctioned Fiat Chryler for procrastinating in the past. In July 2015, the company came under a federal consent decree, after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ruled that Fiat Chrysler had “frequently delayed responding to safety problems, contrary to federal law,” NBC News reports. The company agreed to pay a record-breaking fine of $105 million and buy back numerous Ram trucks that were installed with defective suspensions.
Many families believe that a similar delay allowed dangerous vehicles, installed with the Monostable E-shift system, to remain on the road. As the New York Times has noted, Fiat Chrysler only chose to accelerate its recall after Anton Yelchin, a Hollywood star, was killed by his roll-away Jeep Grand Cherokee.
While a class action has been filed on behalf of vehicle owners, the lawsuit does not involve injuries or deaths linked to Fiat Chrysler’s Monostable E-shift system. Instead, the class members argue that Chrysler’s gearshift, which they say was defectively designed, ruined the value of their cars. The class action, filed on June 23, 2016 in the US District Court for the Central California, Eastern Division, has been logged as case number 5:16-cv-01341.
Cases of several personal injury or death, on the other hand, are generally not appropriate as class actions, since each individual plaintiff’s situation will be unique. As a result, our experienced product liability attorneys have chosen to focus on individual personal injury lawsuits.