The parents of famed Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin have filed a wrongful death action against Fiat Chrysler, a month after Yelchin was killed in his driveway when his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee pinned him against a steel gate. Fiat Chrysler had previously recalled 1.1 million of the vehicles based on defects in its shifting mechanism.
The defects in the Jeep Grand Cherokee have been responsible for dozens of injuries and hundreds of incidents of property damage, but Yelchin’s death appears to be the first caused by the defect. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has also opened an investigation into the “rollaway risk” presented by the automobiles. In a tearful press conference announcing the lawsuit, Yelchin’s mother expressed hope that, through the lawsuit, “his death might save some other life.”
The Wrongful Death Allegations
In the suit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court against Fiat Chrysler, Yelchin’s parents allege that Fiat Chrysler defectively designed the gear shifting system that was included in the Jeep Grand Cherokee and that the steps that the company took to remedy the situation were “way too little and way too late” in the words of their attorney. Fiat Chrysler had been aware of the issue with the gear shifting system for some time, both due to the repeated accidents and the NHTSA, and yet a notification of a safety fix for the gear problem was not sent to Yelchin until seven days after his death. Fiat Chrysler had also sent a letter to consumers in April discussing the risk but placing the blame for the accidents on driver error.
While Yelchin was alone when he died, investigators determined that he died from blunt traumatic asphyxiation on the night of June 18 when he was pinned between his car and a steel gate at his home. Yelchin had apparently exited the jeep while it was running, likely under the assumption that the shifting gear was in park, but the shifting gear was actually in reverse, causing the jeep to roll backwards and pin him. This issue of Jeep Grand Cherokees appearing to be in park when they are actually in reverse is the same issue experienced by hundreds of other owners of the vehicles in question.
Damages in a Wrongful Death Suit
The lawsuit does not provide specific amount of damages sought by the parents. In a typical wrongful death suit, however, the surviving family members can sue for the pain and suffering experienced by the deceased prior to their death, the lost financial support from the deceased’s income over the course of his or her life, and damages for the the loss of familial relations over the deceased’s lifetime. Given that the 27-year old actor was a high demand actor in big franchises such as Star Trek and The Smurfs, the lost income potential over his lifetime could be quite significant.
Fiat Chrysler’s Legal Challenges Are Only Beginning
In addition to the wrongful death lawsuit brought by Yelchin’s parents, Fiat Chrysler also faces class action suits brought on behalf of all parties affected by the rollaway risk in their cars, as well as any ongoing consequences and penalties related to the NHTSA’s investigation into the company.
At McCuneWright, our complex litigation attorneys have extensive experience in investigating consumer fraud and defective product matter issues in the automotive industry. We will continue to monitor the investigations into the manufacturing processes and recall efforts at Fiat Chrysler. 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. Contact one of our attorneys today to schedule a consultation regarding your claim.