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Yelchin Death and Defectively Designed Electronic Gear Selector

Steve Wagner

The vehicle accident that left actor Anton Yelchin dead last weekend was at first reported in a matter of fact way. By the time his Star Trek and other film industry colleagues started to express condolences and respect, the story began to change a bit. There were allusions to a “freak accident” or “strange circumstances.”

We now know the 27-year-old Yelchin had gotten out of his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee in his driveway and ended up pinned against a brick mailbox and security fence. His vehicle had rolled down the driveway, striking him, and causing death by blunt force asphyxiation. Some suspect the accident could have been caused by an unusually designed electronic gear selector that became the subject of a worldwide recall by Fiat-Chrysler in April.

Electronic Gear Selector Proves Confusing and Dangerous

The recall was intended to address a transmission design flaw after hundreds of complaints were filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. At least 41 injuries had occurred in rollaway accidents similar to the one that killed Anton Yelchin.

Instead of the nearly universal gear selectors that use individual notches and specific positions for each gear, the new Fiat-Chrysler electronic gear selector uses a kind of toggling system to move through the gears. Vehicle owners say it is confusing to use and leaves them uncertain as to whether or not the vehicle is in park. Many have reported exiting their vehicles believing they were properly in park, only to see their vehicle roll away after exiting.

The recall has been issued for 2014-15 Jeep Grand Cherokees, 2012-2014 Dodge Chargers, and Chrysler 300 Sedans. The solution provides updates to software, providing additional warning lights and sounds when the vehicle is not in park. Owners of some other vehicles with the electronic gear selector have not received notice of the recall, but instead were sent notification of the danger and recommendations for double-checking the gear of the vehicle prior to exiting. The recall plan would eventually have provided the fixes to all vehicles with the new style of gear selector installed.

Vehicle Rollaways Result in Hundreds of Serious Injuries Each Year

Rollaway accidents largely occur in a few basic ways. In nearly half of all cases, the injury occurred when the person was trying to reenter the vehicle. Individuals also can be thrown from the vehicle then run over or struck or they may be injured in a collision between the rollaway vehicle and a fixed object. Though the most common kinds of injuries are contusions and fractures, more serious and life-threatening injuries, such as internal organ injury and crushing injuries occur over 10% of the time. Children who are strapped into the vehicles are the victims nearly a third of the time.

If you or your child have been injured in a rollaway accident that may possibly be due to a product defect, such as those in the Fiat-Chrysler recall, you may be facing a long recovery. The product liability attorneys at Wagner Reese can help you recover costs for medical care, lost wages, and more. Call us today for your FREE consultation: (888) 204-8440.


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