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The Jeep Recall: When Product Liability Goes Mainstream

When you work in an office like I do, you celebrate a lot of milestones. Birthdays are a big deal, as are weddings and new babies. Birthdays are fun, but I’m not much of a fan of weddings or babies. They simply don’t interest me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll buy a card, attend a shower, or even go to a wedding without causing a scene, but they just aren’t for me. However, when someone gets a new car, or is looking for a new car, I go absolutely bananas. I help them with names, I will give advice on what type of model to get or how a certain brand may impact their lifestyle. When they actually buy the car I will buy them small presents and even a license plate from time to time. (In West Virginia, we only have to have a registered plate on the back, so the fronts of our cars are great for personalized tags. I currently have a replica of a licenses plate from the upcoming film Suicide Squad on my car.)

It was probably around the mid 90’s that I started noticing the Jeep Grand Cherokee. I was about 9 or 10 when that vehicle debuted. I still remember it crashing through the glass at the North American International Auto Show when they announced the launch. As the years progressed, I found myself wanting a Grand Cherokee more and more often. I actually came close to buying one as my first car. However, it had poor gas mileage, and it just wasn’t the right fit at the time. I still wanted one though.

I am in a much different place in my life now, and the time to buy a new car is rapidly approaching again. The Grand Cherokee is once again on my radar. The owner of our firm, Jan Dils, recently owned the latest Grand Cherokee. So every day for a few years I would see it as I entered the building. It would really be the perfect vehicle for me. The Trail Rated four wheel drive system would be great for the winters we have in Parkersburg. I live in the woods, so it can be a difficult journey into our offices on Market St. when the snow starts to fall. I even jokingly quote Anna Kendrick’s Character in Up in the Air often. At a moment of frustration, she tells the other characters: “This isn’t how my life was supposed to turn out; I was supposed to be driving a Grand Cherokee by now.” Maybe it’s a good thing I have not been able to buy the vehicle I have desired for so long though.

The Jeep brand has been in the news a lot lately because of safety issues. The Jeep Cherokee was subject to a major recall last year after computer hackers were able to disable it remotely by way of the car’s infotainment system. Earlier this month I rented a Jeep Cherokee. Not the Grand Cherokee, the regular one. After stopping to pay toll at a booth on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I could not get the Jeep to move. It was in gear, and all it would do is lean forward and rev. I honestly thought that the vehicle had been hacked. It was a rental, and there was no guarantee that it had been taken to a Jeep dealer for repair. Somehow the pushbutton parking brake was activated. I did not intentionally set the brake. When I realized the issue, I quickly released the brake, and continued on my way. For a few brief seconds, I thought the Jeep was under someone else’s control.

Now, Jeep is back in the headlines again because of the death of actor Anton Yelchin. His 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee rolled backwards down an incline, crushing the young actor between the vehicle and a mailbox. Police reports state that the vehicle was not in park. Yelchin’s Grand Cherokee was impacted by a recall, and it had not been fixed. Jeep’s parent company, Fiat Chrysler North America issued a recall back in April of this year because of customer complaints about the vehicle moving after they put it in park. However, the parts for the recall would not be ready until July of this year.

If you’re not familiar with why this is such an issue for the Jeep, but not an issue for so many others, is the way it’s designed. If you have an automatic transmission in your car, there are really just two variations; a steering column mount, which used to be very common, but now is mostly found in pickup trucks, or you have a shifter mounted between the front seats like I do. If you shift all the way up, you’re in park, down once, you’re in reverse, do it again, and you’re in neutral, and a third time, you’re in drive. Most of us can do this without looking. The Jeep was different though. It was very unique in the fact that no matter which gear you selected, the lever would always go back to the center position. To me, it looks like it’s always in neutral. It’s not what we’re used too. Often time’s people would put their car in park only to have it actually be in reverse. The car would then roll away. This may be what happened with Anton Yelchin. Further, their countless other reports of owners experiencing the same thing. You can read those complaints here.

For some reason car manufacturers are moving away from traditional gear levers, and are instead going for what I call magic tricks. Certain Lincoln Models, including the MKC, have push button gear selectors on the dash for some reason. The MKC was recalled because owners kept shutting their cars off when they were attempting to shift into sport mode. (The ignition start button is in line with the gear buttons.) I honestly wonder how this design was approved. The only reason I can even think that they would put the gear selection up there is to leave more room in the console for things like cup holders and mobile phones. The Lincoln MKC is a good vehicle, I mean it’s really just a more expensive Ford Escape, but it’s not a bad car. It does not need some magical gear selector to make people buy it. The same is true for manufactures that are using “hockey puck” style selectors. This is one in which the gear selector is in on a dial as opposed to a lever.

I’m a fan of automotive innovation, but not if it means putting people’s lives in danger. It’s possible that the flawed design in the Jeep is what led to Anton Yelchin’s death. Granted, we don’t want to speculate too much at this time. There are several investigations going on right now to determine what events led to the vehicle rolling away. However, after researching similar reports and customer complaints, it’s safe to say that it’s possible the gear shifter design may have led to the actor’s death.

That is one of the reasons why I am so proud to work for this firm. Too often people think a personal injury lawsuit is just about money. But in my mind, they’re about responsibility. Someone has to hold a company, or a person, liable when they’ve done something wrong. We’re not saying Jeep has done anything wrong, but I am sure you can recall everything that happened last year with the General Motors recalls for ignition switch failures.

This goes well beyond product liability though. If someone’s negligence in a car accident, or a slip and fall or even if their dog attacks you, they need to be held responsible. Granted, most car wrecks or dog bites aren’t criminal. That is entirely different type of law, and a completely different story. But it doesn’t mean that people, or companies, shouldn’t be found liable for their actions. That is why we do what we do. You can call us all of the bad names in the book. No, we’re not ambulance chasers, we’re not like Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad, and we don’t think it’s funny if someone gets injured at a store, or on a golf course, or even at friend’s house. Injuries can last forever. Money won’t heal your scars, but finding another party liable in a lawsuit can at least give you some closure.

I’ll be honest, I was a little uneasy when I started to work on the personal injury side of our busy. However, these automotive recalls really put things in perspective for me. It makes what we do make sense to me. I recall the fear I had of driving a GM vehicle when all of those cars were recalled. It’s nice to know that there are people looking out for you if someone’s negligence leads to your pain.

If you’ve been injured because of a faulty product, or because someone was texting while driving, or if another’s actions led to your suffering, call us today for a free consultation. 1-877-526-3247. Or, fill out this form now, and a specialist will get back to you at your convenience.

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Jan Dils, Attorneys at Law

Jan Dils, Attorneys at Law
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