Class-Action Lawsuit Against Fiat Chrysler Prompted by the Disturbing Death of Star Trek Actor Anton Yelchin

FiatA lawsuit seeking class-action status was filed against Fiat Chrysler in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. The lawsuit alleges that Fiat Chrysler failed to fix an issue that allowed vehicles to move while the vehicles were in the “park” position.

Design Defect Implicated in Driverless Rollaway Incidents

The lawsuit was filed by law firm Hagen Berman Sobol Shapiro LLC on behalf of three plaintiffs. Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Fiat Chrysler “fraudulently concealed and failed to remedy a gear shifter design defect affecting 811,000 vehicles and linked to driverless rollaway incidents.” 

In April, Fiat Chrysler issued a recall, acknowledging the 41 injuries that have been alleged to have resulted from the flaw. The vehicles under recall include the 2012 to 2014 Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 and the 2014 and 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee. This recall affects 1.1 million cars. The flaw is with an electronic shift lever that can spring back to the same position after the driver thought they had shifted them. Drivers cannot tell whether the vehicle is in the park position by looking; they have to depend on indicator lights.

Death of Anton Yelchin Shines Light on Jeep’s Flaws

Last week, actor Anton Yelchin, best known for his role as Chekov in Star Trek movies, died when his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee rolled down his driveway and pinned him against a brick mailbox. Yelchin’s vehicle was one of those that were subject to the recall. Authorities are still investigating his death and have not disclosed whether the alleged flaw was a factor. While Fiat Chrysler did file a recall notice with federal regulators, the car owners had not received an official warning at the time of Yelchin’s death. 

The suit seeks class action status for the car owners, requesting compensation for the diminished value of their vehicles following the “raft of negative publicity” following Yelchin’s death. 

The complaint alleges that “Though complaints and accident reports have been ongoing since at least early 2015, FCA has only recently initiated a voluntary recall of the over 811,000 Defective Shifter Vehicles in the United States; but to date it has only sent a letter to owners describing the design defect of the ZF Shifter, even though it knows exactly how to fix the problem by looking at what its competitors have done.”

The lawsuit seeks to compel Fiat Chrysler to replace the shifters or install a safety override system to automatically move the vehicle in park if the driver’s door is open and the foot brake is released. Damages are estimated to be in excess of $5 million.

Maserati Owners May Join

Hagen Berman Sobol Shapiro LLC’s managing partner, Steve Berman, said that Maserati owners who were also subject to a recent recall may also join the suit. Maserati is also owned by Fiat Chrysler and recently recalled 13,000 vehicles that have the same sort of gear shifter. Berman stated, “[i]n making these vehicles, Fiat Chrysler failed at adequately and responsibly designing one of the most basic safety features — the gear shifter.”

Fiat Chrysler issued as statement saying, “It would be inappropriate to comment at this time as FCA has not been served.”

(Photo Credit: "Fiat 500 Abarth" by is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.)

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