The tragic death of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin got the world in mourning but also sparked more concerns regarding vehicle safety.
The 27-year-old actor died in a car crash, and his untimely demise has fueled a $5 million class-action lawsuit. Jeep owners are suing Fiat Chrysler, the manufacturer of Grand Cherokee jeeps, arguing that a faulty gearshift is responsible for more than 300 deaths — Yelchin's included.
The actor's vehicle was reportedly among the 1.1 million cars included in a massive FCA recall. Fiat issued the recall because the vehicles posed the risk of rolling away after drivers exited, which is exactly what happened in Yelchin's case.
Law firm Hagens Berman Sobel Shapiro LLP filed the class-action lawsuit on behalf of three plaintiffs, who claim the automaker took too long to fix the defect, creating a "rollaway" risk in 2014-15 Grand Cherokee Jeeps. That "unreasonable delay" ended tragically for some vehicle owners such as Yelchin.
Deadline obtained the court documents [pdf], which allege that FCA broke a basic safety rule: the proper functioning of the gear shifter, which ensures that a stationary vehicle remains stationary until an operator wants to move it.
The issue stems from the car's gear shift design, the lawsuit alleges, detailing that the operator gets no feedback on whether the car actually entered the "park" gear where it's safe to exit.
That could be what caused the freak accident resulting in the death of the actor. Yelchin was standing behind his parked car in his driveway when the vehicle started rolling backward, pinning him against a security fence and a brick mailbox. The actor had a scheduled rehearsal with some friends, and when he didn't show up, they went to his house to check up on him and found his body.
"FCA's unreasonable delay in fixing the defect and its warning letter was obviously too little, too late for Mr. Yelchin, and nearly a million Defective Shifter Vehicles remain in unsuspecting owners' driveways and garages," the complaint further highlights.
Following investigations from the coroner's office in Los Angeles, Yelchin's death was ruled an accident, with blunt traumatic asphyxia as the cause of death, Lt. Larry Dietz revealed. According to Dietz, it seemed Yelchin did not put his car in park mode before stepping out.
The lawsuit highlights that if the vehicle would offer some kind of feedback as to whether it actually entered park mode, such freak accidents could be avoided. Authorities are still investigating whether the Jeep Grand Cherokee recall issue was the cause of the accident.
In addition to restitution for the now-lower value of the vehicle, the complaint also seeks an injunction to stop FCA's misleading practices, punitive damages for fraud, the replacement of the faulty ZF Shifter or installation of a safety override system, a temporary replacement vehicle and monetary compensation for any extra costs the car owners may have had.