Gear Shifters Linked To Star Trek Actor's Death Are 'Defective': Lawsuit

Illustration for article titled Gear Shifters Linked To iStar Trek /iActors Death Are Defective: Lawsuit

Fiat Chrysler is targeted in a new federal lawsuit over problematic gear shifters in former Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep vehicles—many of which were subjected to a massive recall last year—that’s also linked to the death of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin.

The federal lawsuit, filed by 49-year-old San Antonio resident Sonya Dawson, says the gear shifter on her 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel was the source of an accident that injured her in March 2016. According to the complaint, Dawson pulled into the driveway of her home after a trip to the grocery store, “and exited the vehicle while the engine was still running.”


As she approached the house, the complaint says, Dawson noticed the Jeep started to roll backwards.

“She opened the door, attempted to jump back into the vehicle, and stop the vehicle by applying the brakes,” according to the complaint. “However, Sonya was ejected from the vehicle and onto the ground. As the vehicle rolled towards her, she attempted avoid being run over and moved her left leg out of the way. However, the left front tire rolled over her right foot.”

Dawson blames FCA for designing and manufacturing cars with “monostable shifters that did not provide a reliable method of determining gear placement and did not include any safety-override to prevent rollaway accidents.”

FCA didn’t immediately offer a comment on the suit to The Detroit News, which first reported on Dawson’s complaint.


As our David Tracy described the shifters in question last year, their design—in which the gear selector is pushed up and down but returns to center, rather than staying in a fixed place like a typical PRNDL shifter might—can be confusing to operate.

On the unusual mushroom-shaped gear shifter, a driver presses and holds a button and pushes the shifter all the way up to set the car in park, after which the shifter centers itself again. But Fiat Chrysler said the Jeep’s shifter design didn’t provide drivers with sufficient feedback for them to know what gear their car was in, and so some drivers just left the vehicles in neutral before exiting the car.


The 27-year-old Yelchin was driving a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee in the early hours of June 19, 2016, when his car, while in neutral, rolled backwards down a driveway, and pinned him against a mailbox. Police later confirmed the vehicle was included in a massive recall that’s tied to 41 reported injuries.

Dawson’s five-count complaint asks for unspecified punitive and statutory damages, along with compensation for her injuries.


Update: A FCA US spokesperson sent along the following 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.

Senior Reporter, Jalopnik/Special Projects Desk

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PRNDL works. Shifters that actually move give tactile feedback that you have selected the gear that you want. They save a little room but make it more likely that someone who is distracted or unfamiliar with the car will make a mistake.