Jeep Grand Cherokee involved in ‘Star Trek’ actor Anton Yelchin’s death had been recalled over gearshift issue by Fiat Chrysler in April

by John Chapman

The same 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee model that was involved in the death of actor Anton Yelchin had been recently recalled by Fiat Chrysler, the automaker says. Yelchin, a Russian born actor who had appeared in the recent reboot of the Star Trek movie franchise, was killed on June 19, 2016 when his Jeep Grand Cherokee accidentally rolled down his driveway after he had exited the vehicle, crushing him against a mailbox.

Fiat Chrysler had recalled about 812,000 vehicles in April 2016 due to a gearshift issue which could confuse drivers into accidentally leaving their vehicles in neutral when they are parking. In addition to the 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee, the 2012-14 Dodge Charger and 2012-14 Chrysler 300 were also included in the safety recall.

All of the vehicles that were recalled by Fiat Chrysler are equipped with a gearshift lever that returns to the central position rather than moving to a distinct position with each gear. In a report to federal safety regulators about the issue, Fiat Chrysler stated that “drivers erroneously concluding that their vehicle transmission is in the park position may be struck by the vehicle and injured”.

Although authorities are still uncertain about the cause of Yelchin’s accident, Los Angeles police say that the actor was killed after exiting his vehicle on the steep driveway located outside his house. The Jeep rolled down the driveway, causing Yelchin to be crushed against the concrete-reinforced mailbox near the entrance to the driveway.

A police spokesperson said that authorities were still uncertain whether Yelchin’s Jeep Grand Cherokee was in neutral at the time of the deadly accident. In a statement, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that it was working with Fiat Chrysler and local authorities to determine the cause of Yelchin’s accident. The regulator advised owners of the recalled vehicles to “take extra care to make sure their car is in park and turned completely off before exiting” in order to reduce the risk of being accidentally struck by a vehicle that was mistakenly left in the neutral gear.

Fiat Chrysler’s decision to recall the 812,000 Jeep, Dodge, and Chrysler models came in response to a NHTSA investigation regarding transmission problems with the vehicles. NHTSA launched its investigation after receiving dozens of injury reports and numerous complaints from owners of the affected vehicles.

Fiat Chrysler stated in April that it had received 41 injury reports related to the transmission problems with the recalled models. Since that time, NHTSA says that it has received at least eight reports of accidents in which vehicles rolled away and crashed. None of these reports involved injuries to drivers or passengers.

In a letter that was sent to vehicle owners at the time of the recall, Fiat Chrysler stated that it was still working to develop a fix for the transmission issues affecting the Jeep, Dodge, and Chrysler models. The company stated that it expected to have the solution to the vehicle transmission problems in late 2016.

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When automobiles are not properly designed, the consequences can be deadly. Automakers have a responsibility to build cars that are as safe as possible under current manufacturing, design, and safety standards. When cars and trucks are not designed and built to meet the present design standards—or when these automobiles are not built to properly keep drivers and passengers safe in the event of a crash—the manufacturer of the vehicle may be at fault.

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by John Chapman

John Chapman is a licensed attorney with experience in complex commercial litigation (including securities fraud, RICO, shareholder oppression, and derivative actions) and personal injury litigation.