A retired Massachusetts State Trooper who was injured in a Jeep Grand Cherokee rollaway accident is suing Fiat Chrysler in federal court, alleging the ZF shifter in his vehicle and certain other models is defective and dangerous.
With his complaint, plaintiff John Malone, 69, becomes the latest driver suing Fiat Chrysler over the unusual shifters, which have been attributed to some 700 incident reports, including 308 property damage claims, 212 crashes, and 41 injuries.
On Aug. 2, the parents of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin filed the sole wrongful death lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler, accusing the automaker of poorly designing and manufacturing the ZF gear selector. Mr. Yelchin was crushed to death June 19 when his Grand Cherokee rolled away and pinned him up against a security gate and mailbox.
Mr. Malone says that he started noticing the shift lever would not always go into the right position, such as when trying to move it from park to reverse. He says that when shifting to reverse, the gear would go into neutral, skipping reverse altogether. He says this defect misled him to believe his vehicle was safely parked when it wasn’t.
Mr. Malone was injured June 2 after parking his Jeep near a concrete wall and turning it off. His lawsuit says that the vehicle started rolling after he set his left foot on the ground. He tried to hit the brake but the Grand Cherokee kept rolling until it pinned his left leg between the open door and the concrete wall.
The impact tore Mr. Malone’s anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and fractured his knee. He is scheduled to have the damaged knee replaced in October.
Mr. Malone said he received two recall notices for his Grand Cherokee in May 2016, one for a brake pad defect and the other for the ZF shifter. Fiat Chrysler’s recall notice said there was no permanent repair for the defective shifter at that time, but that the automaker aimed to have a remedy in the last quarter of 2016.
The ZF gear selector does not move up and down and lock in place the way a traditional automatic shifter does, but moves back and forth to the desired gear, then returns to the center. This design means that drivers must look at the lights on the shifter or the dashboard to make sure the gear is in the right position; there is no way to “feel” the right gear.
Mr. Malone alleges that Fiat Chrysler failed to safely integrate the ZF shifters into 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees, 2012-2014 Dodge Chargers, and 2012-2014 Chrysler 300s as other automakers have done in their vehicles.
According to CarComplaints.com, “The plaintiff says BMW uses electronic gear shifters with safety override systems that automatically shift the cars into PARK if the driver-side door is opened while the seat belt is unbuckled.”
And Audi also uses the same ZF gear selector as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, but the override system “automatically engages the parking brake if the driver-side door is opened while the seat belt is unbuckled.”