Over the weekend, the tragic news came out that the actor who played Chekhov in the recent series of Star Trek movies, Anton Yelchin, was killed at the age of 27 in what many people characterized as a “freak accident.” When the police found the actor, he was pinned against a brick mailbox by his 2015 Jeep Cherokee just outside the gate of his home. At the time, the vehicle was in neutral while the engine was still running.
While an investigation into the accident is underway and an exact cause of this accident has yet to be determined, one interesting twist in this incident is being considered because Yelchin’s 2015 Cherokee was part of a recall issued by Fiat Chrysler in April.
That recall was announced after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) discovered that a significant number of drivers had been exiting their vehicles while the engine was running without shifting the automatic transmission into the “park” position. At the time, it was believed that drivers were confused, unaware that electronically-controlled shift levers behave differently from traditional shift levers, in that they don’t physically change position when shifted, but instead return to the same position, meaning that drivers were often unaware of the gear their vehicle was in.
In this case, it is possible that the Cherokee’s gear shift went back to its original position and that Yelchin may not have been able to tell whether the gears were in “park” or “neutral.” So far, this design flaw has been blamed for hundreds of accidents nationwide, and the company’s recall announcement said, “Drivers thinking that their vehicle’s transmission is in the PARK position may be struck by the vehicle and injured if they attempt to get out of the vehicle while the engine is running and the parking brake is not engaged.” At the time of the recall in April, Fiat Chrysler blamed the shifter confusion for 41 injuries.
Fiat Chrysler has sent recall notices to the owners of 2014 and 2015 Jeep Cherokees that are affected, but since it is early in the investigation in this accident, there is no way to know if Yelchin received the recall notice or whether he had the problem fixed. The company asks that all owners of these vehicles take them in to the dealer so that they can modify the automatic transmission and fix the warning system. They report that they have already updated the shifters in newer versions of the vehicles.
This is a horrible tragedy, in which a young man died in a horrible accident. If this happened because of a defective vehicle that had been recalled, this should serve as a reminder to everyone; if you have one of these vehicles, be sure to follow the instructions of the recall and have the problem repaired as soon as possible. However, if you or a loved one has been seriously injured or killed because of a defect to this or any other vehicle, please contact the Vehicle Defect Attorney at the Hill Law Firm as soon as possible, so that we can examine the situation and help you protect your rights under the law.