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Star Trek Actor's Death May Have Been Caused by Defective Jeep Design

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.

Car Accident Attorney DCIn 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 for their 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.