Anton Yelchin’s Parents Sue Fiat Chrysler Over Actor’s Death

Six weeks after the death of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin was potentially linked to the confusing gear shifter in recalled Jeep, Dodge, and Chrysler vehicles, the man’s family has filed a wrongful death and product-liability lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler. 

The Associated Press reports that the lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, claims the gear shifter in the actor’s Jeep was defective and poorly designed and manufactured.

The actor died on June 19 when his Jeep reportedly rolled backward down the driveway, pinning him between a mailbox and a security fence.

According to the lawsuit, Yelchin’s SUV did not engage or maintain its Park gear and that led to the vehicle crushing the actor.

The suit does not say how much Yelchin’s parents are seeking in damages. Attorney Gary Dordick told reporters on Tuesday that the automaker “put profits before safety.”

While Yelchin’s death is still under investigation, Los Angeles law enforcement authorities confirmed at the time of the incident that the vehicle was part of FCA’s April recall that was initiated in order to alleviate confusion about when the vehicle’s transmissions are in the Park position.

Dordick confirmed on Tuesday that Yelchin had received a recall notice in May, and a second notice was sent seven days after his death, notifying him that the company had a fix in place for the shifter issue.

The crux of the problem is found in the design of the electronic gear shifter. Unlike a traditional shifter, the electronic version is simply moved forward and backward to select gear. Once the gear has been selected, the shifter returns to the centered position.

This means the e-shifter lacks the typical grooves and sensation of moving the car into Park, Drive, or Reverse that drivers are accustomed to.

As a result of these issues, FCA issued the recall of 811,586 model year 2012 to 2014 Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans and model year 2014 to 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs.

At the time of the recall, FCA said it was aware of 41 injuries related to the issue. Vehicles involved in those incidents were inspected and no evidence of equipment failure was found.

However, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation [PDF] into the vehicle in 2015.

Unlike traditional gearshifters, the electronic version doesn’t actually remain placed in the intended selection, the shifter is designed to spring back to a centered position.

If a driver opens his or her door when the gearshift isn’t in Park, a chime rings and a message pops up to alert them that the transmission is not in Park. The engine also will not turn off normally without the transmission in Park.

Safety regulators determined in February – when the investigation [PDF] was expanded to include 400,000 more Jeep, as well as Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger vehicles – that this function does not protect drivers who “intentionally leave the engine running or those who do not realize that the engine is still running after an attempted shut-off.”

As a result, drivers may exit the vehicle when the engine is running and the transmission is not in Park, leaving the unattended vehicle to roll away.

In June, NHTSA closed the investigation after linking 68 injuries and 266 crashes to the issue.

NHTSA, which received 686 complaints about the issue, said at the time that the closure was initiated after Fiat Chrysler’s recalled the affected vehicles earlier in the year.

Parents sue over crash that killed ‘Star Trek’ actor Yelchin [The Associated Press]