A lawsuit filed in federal court in Tuesday targets Fiat Chrysler Automobiles over issues linked with shifters in previous Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep models. It’s the same shifter linked to the death of actor Anton Yelchin last year.
A 49-year-old San Antonio resident claims the ZF shifter installed on her 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel contributed to an accident injuring her outside her home on March 30, 2016. After pulling into the driveway, Sonya Dawson alleges she put the vehicle in park, exited with the engine running and shut the driver’s door behind her.
“Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed the ... Cherokee had begun to roll backwards,” states Dawson’s lawsuit filed in federal court in Detroit. “She opened the door, attempted to jump back into the vehicle, and stop the vehicle by applying the brakes. However, Sonya was ejected from the vehicle and onto the ground.
“As the vehicle rolled towards her, she attempted to avoid being run over and moved her left leg out of the way. However, the left front tire rolled over her right foot.”
Dawson’s lawsuit faults FCA for failing to utilize a shifter that provides “a reliable method of determining gear placement” as well as failing to include a “safety override” feature to prevent roll-aways.
The problem with the shifter is that the lever doesn’t stay in position after a gear is selected in the way a traditional shifter does; instead, after moving forward or back, it returns to the center.
The company, however, has maintained that the shifter, when used properly, provides proper notification of when vehicles are in park.
“Gear selection is conveyed to the driver by multiple sets of indicate lights, not gear-selector position, and unless due care is taken, driver may draw erroneous conclusions about the status of their vehicles,” FCA said in a statement last year. “The vehicles also deliver warning chimes if their driver-side doors are opened while their engines are still running and “park” is not engaged.”
On Tuesday, the company issued a statement: “FCA US wishes to extend its sympathies to Ms. Dawson for her injuries sustained in this incident. We cannot comment further at this time as the company has not been served with this lawsuit and has not had an opportunity to study what it alleges.”
The lawsuit says that an examination and x-rays taken the day after the incident showed no broken bones, but Dawson was given a walking boot. More than a month later, during a Mexico City vacation, Dawson alleges she experienced escalating pain that continued for two months. In August, an orthopedic surgeon diagnosed a torn ligament in her toe.
The electric transmission shifters designed by ZF Friedrichshafen AG wound up in Jeep, Chrysler and Dodge models. FCA issued a a voluntary recall of more than 1 million vehicles with the shifters a year ago. The vehicles included 2012-14 Dodge Chargers, Chrysler 300 sedans and 2014-15 Jeep Grand Cherokees.
Dawson’s attorneys claim: “the ZF shifter does not include a safety override that prevents the driver from getting out of the car when it is not in park.” While other automakers, such as BMW, utilize similar shifters, “the BMW shifter has a safety override,” the lawsuit states.
As for the complaint of a lack of safety override, FCA stated: “FCA US advises customers to follow the operating instructions in their owners’ manuals. The shifter functions as intended if used accordingly.”
Yelchin, a 27-year-old actor known for roles in films like “Star Trek,” died in June after his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee rolled and pinned him against a mailbox pillar and security fence at his Los Angeles home.
A class-action lawsuit was filed against FCA in June. Dawson’s legal claim, filed in U.S. District Court in San Antonio, seeks compensation for her losses and injuries, as well as punitive and statutory damages.