Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury Law Blog

Automaker Sued in Death of Actor, a Million Vehicles Recalled

Posted by Briggs Bedigian | Aug 03, 2016 | 0 Comments

The legal hits keep coming for Fiat Chrysler. The automobile manufacturer recalled 1.1 million vehicles in April. In June a class action suit was filed in a California federal court.

And now, the parents of actor Anton Yelchin have filed a wrongful-death and product-liability lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court against the company for the June 19 incident that killed the 27-years-old star. Yelchin, who can be seen in the recently released Star Trek Beyond, was killed when his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee accidentally rolled backward down the driveway of his San Fernando Valley home and crushed him against a brick pillar.

According to the lawsuit: “Anton Yelchin was crushed and lingered alive for some time, trapped and suffocating until his death.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Yelchin's death “is the first fatality we're aware of that may be related to this safety defect and vehicle recall.”

The Yelchin lawsuit also names auto-parts maker ZF North America, the North American arm of the German transmission, chassis and driveline manufacturer ZF Friedrichshafen AG that made the shifter.

The recall came after the NHTSA investigation into the Monostable gear shifter used by a number of Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicles. A design flaw causes the shifter to return to the default center position without giving the driver tactile or position feedback as to whether the car is in park. In order to get from drive to park, a driver must push the lever forward three times. A light indicates which gear is selected.

Unlike other car makers that use this type of shifter, there is not an override to automatically put the car in park if the door is open. As a result, a number of owners, like Yelchin, have exited their vehicles thinking that they had put them in “park,” while in reality they remained in “drive” or “reverse.” At the time the recall was announced, there had been 121 accidents and 41 injuries reportedly caused by the faulty shifter.

In the class action suit, vehicle owners allege the automaker concealed the potential problems with the shifter and failed to fix them. The suit was filed just days after Yelchin's death. The lawsuit seeks restitution for owners and a court order requiring Fiat Chrysler to tell customers not to drive the affected vehicles until the shifters are repaired. The recall covers 2012-2014 Dodge Chargers and Chrysler sedans, and 2014-15 Jeep Grand Cherokees. Fiat Chrysler began providing dealers with a software fix in late June after Yelchin's death. Once fixed, vehicles will alert drivers and automatically shift into park if a door opens while the engine is running.

Also in late June, the automaker launched a recall of 13,000 high-end Maserati sedans for similar issues with the gear shifter. Last year, federal regulators assessed a record $105 million fine against Fiat Chrysler recall lapses involving millions of vehicles.

Every person who is injured by a wrongful act deserves compensation. If you or a loved one was harmed or died as a result of an injury or medical error, call the offices of trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian at 800-529-6162 or contact them online. The firm handles cases in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm's litigation practice.  Briggs' legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 

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