You may not have known the name of actor Anton Yelchin prior to his death this past week, but you probably knew his face and even his voice. The 27-year-old actor was a familiar presence across both mainstream and independent movies, appearing in over 60 films in his brief career including the Star Trek series, the Smurfs movies, and smaller movies such as Like Crazy. So it came as a terrible shock when news came out that Yelchin had died in what appeared to be a freak accident involving him being pinned by his own 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Although the bizarre circumstances of the accident raised many questions of how Yelchin ended up pinned by his own vehicle, and many questions do remain as investigators look into his death, it turns out that the actor’s Jeep Grand Cherokee had been part of a 1.1 million vehicle recall by its maker Fiat Chrysler in April for defects related to its shifting mechanism which appear to have caused hundreds of accidents.
The Circumstances of Yelchin’s Tragic Death
According to the Los Angeles Times, the actor’s cause of death was blunt traumatic asphyxia. He was found at around 1 AM on the morning of June 19 by friends who came to his gated home in Studio City, California, after he had failed to show up to an audition. His body was pinned between his Jeep Grand Cherokee and a brick pillar and security gate. Initial investigations indicate that Yelchin had exited the jeep while it was running and that the shifting gear was in reverse, causing the jeep to roll backwards and pin him. An investigator told the Times that surveillance camera footage had captured at least part of the accident and that Yelchin appears not to have properly put the car in parking gear.
The NHTSA’s Investigation and Fiat Chrysler’s Questionable Recall
Yelchin’s accident is only one of hundreds that appear to have been caused by an apparent defect in the shifting mechanisms of 2014 and 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees, and which have been investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) since last year. As of April 2016, Fiat Chrysler had identified at least 41 injuries and hundreds of incidents of property damage caused by issues with the shifting mechanism . Yelchin appears to have been the first person to die as a result of the “rollaway risk” identified by the NHTSA. Others involved in accidents with the jeeps suffered injuries including a fractured kneecap, broken pelvis, ruptured bladder, and lacerations and severe bruising.
The NHTSA concluded in its investigation that the operation of the shifting gear on the jeeps was not intuitive, and provided “poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver, increasing the potential for unintended gear selection.” In other words, drivers of the jeeps frequently thought they had placed the jeep in park, when in fact the jeep was not safely in the parked gear.
Fiat Chrysler sent a letter to owners of Jeep Grand Cherokees in mid-April of this year warning of the rollaway risk. The recall stated, “The cause of unintended vehicle movement in the subject vehicles is the driver’s decision to exit the vehicle with the engine running and without confirming that the vehicle is in PARK and choosing not to set the parking brake as directed in documentation provided with the vehicle.” Thus, Fiat Chrysler attempted to blame the victims for causing the accidents caused by the defects investigated by the NHTSA.
Initially, Fiat Chrysler said it would not be able to start repairing vehicles until the fourth quarter of this year. However, on May 24, Fiat Chrysler informed the NHTSA that anticipated having it would have the software updates required to remedy the above vehicles no later than July/August of 2016.
Legal Remedies for Automotive Defects
If you have been injured in accident caused by an automotive defect, recovery for your injuries, property damage, and other losses is available through the court system. The complex litigation attorneys at McCuneWright have extensive experience in investigating consumer fraud and defective product matter issues in the automotive industry. Contact one of our attorneys today to schedule a consultation regarding your claim.