The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) has consolidated several lawsuits in the Eastern District of Michigan over allegations that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) manufactured certain vehicles with defective electronic gearboxes. The panel consolidated the six cases, three of which originated from the Eastern District of Michigan, saying that FCA US LLC and its gearshift supplier ZF Friedrichshafen AG are headquartered there, and that relevant documents and witnesses will be more readily available.
The decision came despite attempts by several other class Plaintiffs who sought to move the case either to Colorado or Massachusetts federal court. However, the panel chose Michigan, saying:
The Eastern District of Michigan has the support of the defendant and the majority of the responding plaintiffs. [U.S. District] Judge David M. Lawson, to whom we assign this litigation, is an experienced jurist, and we are confident he will steer this litigation on a prudent course.
The JPML’s decision comes several months after drivers of certain FCA vehicles – including Dodge Chargers, Chrysler 300s and Jeep Grand Cherokees – sued the automaker in class actions nationwide over allegedly faulty electronic gear shift systems that could cause the vehicles to roll and cause accidents, even if the vehicle was supposedly placed in park.
According to the lawsuits, NHTSA has received several complaints about the gearshifts, which were manufactured by ZF. It was alleged that electronic signals were used to relay gear shift requests to the transmission instead of traditional mechanical linkages.
The suits arose from a NHTSA investigation into the vehicles, starting in August 2015 with an evaluation of more than 400,000 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs. The agency widened the probe in February to include Dodge Chargers and Chrysler 300s, expanding the number of possibly affected vehicles to more than 850,000. It’s alleged that FCA started to phase out the shifters within months after hearing of the complaints, but no recall was issued until April 2016.
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