— A Jeep Grand Cherokee gear shift design is under the legal microscope in a lawsuit filed against Fiat Chrysler (FCA US) by Dedra Maneotis, a 77-year-old mother of four and grandmother of six.
Maneotis, of Craig, Colorado, was driving a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee that was equipped with an 8-speed transmission and electronic monostable gear shifter when she pulled into her driveway and thought she put the Grand Cherokee in PARK.
The lawsuit says as she opened the door and had one foot out the door, the SUV started to roll backward causing Maneotis to hop backward while holding onto the door and steering wheel. The door then clipped a wall and bent backward and Maneotis lost her grip on the door as the SUV gained speed going down the hill.
The woman finally fell and her leg got wrapped-up in the front driver-side wheel, rolling over her leg.
Maneotis is now numb from the knee to the toes and her legs get tight quickly. She says she cannot walk more than 50 yards without problems and relies on pain medication. The plaintiff also claims she cannot travel, maintain her home or play with her grandchildren or great-grandchild as she once did.
The lawsuit alleges 2012-14 Dodge Chargers, Chrysler 300s and 2014-15 Jeep Grand Cherokees are equipped with the defective electronic shifters that caused the injuries to the mother of four.
The electronic shifters are manufactured by ZF Friedrichshafen AG and are much different than typical gear shifters used with automatic transmissions. With a normal shifter, a driver moves the lever based on "PRND" to put the vehicle in gear or neutral or PARK. A driver can usually go by feel alone to know if the transmission is in PARK, but not so with an electronic shifter.
Electronic shifters always return to a central location, leaving a driver to always look at lights or indicators to know if a vehicle is in PARK.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the shifters confuse people who have spent years driving automatic vehicles with typical shifters, but Fiat Chrysler say the shifters work exactly as designed. It's drivers who don't put the transmissions into PARK, a problem that has caused at least 700 complaints, 308 claims of property damage, 212 crashes, 41 injuries and one death possibly related to the electronic shifters.
A big point of the claims in the lawsuit involve the lack of a safety override in the Chrysler vehicles. An override is used so that even if a driver isn't paying attention to whether the vehicle is in PARK, the driver can't exit unless the vehicle is in PARK.
BMW uses electronic 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. Additionally, Audi uses the same ZF electronic shifter as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, but the Audi override system automatically engages the parking brake if the driver-side door is opened while the seat belt is unbuckled.
The government has been closely involved in the electronic shifter subject after NHTSA opened an investigation about the shifters in August 2015 after complaints about 2014-2015 Grand Cherokee SUVs rolling away. Then in February 2016, the government upgraded the investigation to include Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger cars equipped with 3.6L engines because they use the same shifters as the Grand Cherokees.
In April, FCA recalled more than 1 million 2012-2014 Dodge Charger, Chrysler 300 and model year 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs to update software related to the shifters.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee electronic gear shift lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado - Dedra Maneotis vs. FCA, US LLC.
The plaintiff is represented by Hagens Berman.