By: Allan M. Siegel
On June 19, 2016, Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin’s Jeep Grand Cherokee
rolled down his driveway and pinned him against a brick mailbox and a
security fence in front of his house. Yelchin died later the same day.
Early this year, his Jeep SUV vehicle had been the subject of a recall
notice due to the vehicle’s gear selector design, which confused
consumers about whether the Jeep was in park.
In April, the owner of the Jeep brand, Fiat Chrysler, issued a recall after
receiving more than 100 complaints about injuries and collisions by users
accidentally leaving their vehicles in gear. The recall affected 811,586
SUVs and cars. In an April press release, the company admitted it was
aware of 41 injuries that may be caused by drivers inadvertently exiting
their vehicles without putting their vehicles in park. In the recalled
vehicle models, gear selection was indicated through indicator lights
and not the gear selector’s position, which confused drivers.
Through the recall, Fiat Chrysler’s stated intent was to enhance
warnings for drivers who exited their vehicles without putting the gear
in park and to also prevent vehicles from moving in certain circumstances
even if a driver does not put the gear in park. This last design improvement,
if implemented, may have been able to save Yelchin’s life.
Yelchin was standing behind his Jeep in his driveway when the vehicle rolled
backward. When he failed to appear for a rehearsal with friends, they
went to his Studio City, California home and found him.
The 27-year-old actor’s death has prompted a $5 million class action
lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler, alleging that a defective gear shifter
design took his life. The lawsuit alleges that the company unreasonably
delayed implementing necessary safety features, even though they allegedly
knew there was a serious risk of rollaway vehicles. The proposed class
includes all consumers who bought or leased a 2014-15 Jeep Grand Cherokee,
a 2012-14 Chrysler 300, or a 2012-14 Dodge Charger.
At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., we understand that the
civil justice system may be wielded to hold careless companies responsible
dangerous products that cause serious injuries and death. Lawsuits can force companies to
change safety policies that serve to protect consumers from harm. Holding
corporations financially responsible for their reckless behavior and defective
products can produce real changes in manufacturing processes and safety
policies. No family should have to bear another senseless, avoidable tragedy
like Anton Yelchin’s family.