'Star Trek' actor Anton Yelchin's parents sue Fiat Chrysler after fatal accident

The parents of “Star Trek” actor Anton Yelchin on Tuesday sued the makers of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, an SUV that had been recalled when it crushed and killed the 27-year-old in a freak accident at his Studio City home. 

Victor and Irina Yelchin filed the wrongful-death and product-liability lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The suit contends that the gear selector in the actor’s 2015 Jeep was defective and poorly designed and manufactured. 

“It’s against nature when parents bury their own child. That’s why we hope this lawsuit will make other families never go through the same hell we are going through right now,” Victor Yelchin said at a news conference in Los Angeles. 

The actor’s Jeep rolled backward down the driveway of his home, pinning him between a brick column and a security fence on June 19.

“Anton Yelchin was crushed and lingered alive for some time, trapped and suffocating until his death,” the lawsuit states.

 The SUV was among 1.1 million vehicles recalled by the automaker in April because their electronic gearshifts confused drivers, causing the vehicles to roll away unexpectedly and leading to dozens of injuries. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that operation of the gearshift was “not intuitive” and gave “poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver, increasing the potential for unintended gear selection.”

Unlike traditional gearshifts, the electronic shifter does not move to a different position after gears are shifted. In order to get from drive to park, a driver must push the lever forward three times. A light indicates which gear is selected.

“It doesn’t give sufficient information to the user,” said Gary Dordick, a Beverly Hills attorney representing the family.

A few days after Yelchin’s death, a group of Jeep Grand Cherokee owners filed a class-action lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler over issues with the gearshift.

In June, Fiat Chrysler said it began providing dealers with a software update that would automatically shift the car into park if a door opened while the engine was running.

Dordick said the notice was received at the actor’s house seven days after his death, but it was unclear if he had received a May letter sent by the automaker indicating it was working on a fix.

Dordick said the actor had started his vehicle and then apparently got out to retrieve something in his house, thinking it was in park, when the accident occurred. 

The lawsuit is seeking punitive damages but does not specify an exact amount. 

Dordick alleged Fiat Chrysler knew of problems with the gear selector as early as 2012 but still installed it into the 2014 and 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees. The gearshift was changed for the 2016 model.

Fiat Chrysler issued a statement extending “its sympathies to the Yelchin family for their tragic loss” but said it could not comment on the lawsuit because it had not yet been served with the legal action.

The company urged customers to follow the instructions on their recall notices and set their parking brakes before exiting the vehicle. Fiat Chrysler has said it is speeding up its recall, which also covers the 2014 Grand Cherokee as well as the 2012 through 2014 Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300. 

A government investigation into the gearshift issue found it was associated with 266 crashes that had injured 68 people as of late June.

In a separate action last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ordered Fiat Chrysler to pay a record $105-million fine and buy back as many as 193,000 cars after accusing the automaker of moving too slowly on past problems with its vehicles.

The company pledged to improve its handling of recalls and hire an agency-approved monitor to track its recall performance over the next three years.

The Yelchin lawsuit also names auto parts maker ZF North America, the North American arm of the German transmission, chassis and driveline manufacturer ZF Friedrichshafen AG that made the shifter.

ZF North America did not respond to a request for comment. 

Yelchin is perhaps best known for his role as Pavel Chekov in the rebooted “Star Trek” franchise. The third film in the series, “Star Trek Beyond,” has grossed more than $106 million in the U.S. in its first two weekends. 

The Yelchins filed another legal action Friday to take control of his estate, which is valued at nearly $1.4 million.  Anton Yelchin left behind several unreleased projects, including the Netflix animated series “Trollhunters” and four films. 

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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UPDATES:

2:15 p.m.: This article was updated throughout.

The first version of this post was published at 12:05 p.m. 

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