Products Liability Law Daily Jeep owner claims that defect in electronic gear shifter responsible for rollaway accident
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Monday, August 29, 2016

Jeep owner claims that defect in electronic gear shifter responsible for rollaway accident

By John W. Scanlan, J.D.

The owner of a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee who sustained injuries to his left leg by being pinned by his vehicle against a concrete wall has brought suit in a federal district court in Massachusetts against FCA US LLC, alleging that a defect in the transmission’s electronic gear selector caused the vehicle to roll away after he put it in park. The driver asserted that Jeep "foot-dragging" on notifying its customers of a defect in the shifter led to more than 300 accidents and dozens of serious injuries, including the recent death of actor Anton Yelchin [see Products Liability Law Daily’s August 4, 2016 analysis] (Malone v. FCA US LLC, August 26, 2016).

General allegations. The Grand Cherokee contains an electronic gear shifter designed and manufactured by ZF Friedrichshafen AG. Rather than having a different position for each gear, this shifter returns to a central location after each shift. According to the complaint, the design of the shifter was dangerously defective because there was no position or tactile feedback to the operator as to whether the car had been placed in park and no override that automatically put the vehicle in park when the driver exits the car. The complaint asserted that other manufacturers, such as BMW and Audi, that use similar shifters do use an override and that Jeep had the ability to install an override but chose not to do so. It further alleged that the electronic shifter offered no additional utility beyond that offered by a traditional shifter, and that use of a traditional shifter would have greatly reduced or eliminated the risk of a rollaway.

Jeep voluntarily recalled more than 800,0000 vehicles with this gear shifter installed, with the defect allegedly affecting 2012-2014 Dodge Chargers, 2012-2014 Chrysler 300s, and 2014-2015 Grand Cherokees. The driver in this case said that he had received a recall notice in May 2016 stating that Jeep had no permanent fix at that time for the problem; his accident took place early in June.

Claims brought. The owner brought claims for negligence, gross negligence, negligence per se for failing to provide required defect reports to NHTSA, failure to warn, and breach of the implied warranty of merchantability.

Relief sought. Seeking a jury trial, the owner asked the court to award damages for rehabilitation, medical bills, and pain and suffering. He also sought punitive damages, statutory damages, attorneys’ fees, costs, and interest.

The case is No. 1:16-cv-11753.

Attorneys: Kristen A. Johnson (Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP) for John J. Malone.

Companies: FCA US LLC f/k/a Chrysler Group LLC

MainStory: TopStory ComplaintNewsStory DesignManufacturingNews WarningsNews DamagesNews MotorVehiclesNews MotorEquipmentNews MassachusettsNews

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