Lawsuits blame Range Rover gear shifter for deadly rollaway

Video shows deadly rollaway accident involving a Range Rover
Video shows deadly rollaway accident involvin... 02:50

Last Updated Dec 21, 2020 7:18 PM EST

Editor's note: The above video contains graphic content.

Shadi Farhat, 41, was getting out of her 2017 Range Rover SUV when it started rolling, pulling her underneath. The Los Angeles mother of two made it to her feet before collapsing. She died just days later. 

"I lost the love of my life. I lost my best friend," her husband, Michael Farhat, told CBS News. 

He is now raising their daughters alone. "Every day is a struggle," he said. "It's a hole that's never going to be filled inside you." 

In his lawsuit against Jaguar Land Rover, Farhat blames what he calls the "defective gear selector" in their Range Rover, which uses a dial instead of a stick to change gears.

"She complained about it a lot. 'I can't tell when it's in park, I can't tell if it's in reverse. I can't tell if it's in drive,'" Farhat said. 

Farhat's lawsuit cites a 2013 Land Rover special service message to dealers, warning about "Concern with the Gearshift Module" becoming "stuck in position…or has erratic or intermittent operation." 

It recommended repairs.

Company documents from 2017 also cited in Farhat's suit indicate the automaker was aware of hundreds of potential unintended rollaway complaints in vehicles with a dial shifter, including 28 in the Range Rover. 

Gina Warsavsky said it happened to her last month. "I believe I put the car into park, got out of the car and my car started reversing towards me and knocked me down," she said. 

Her lawsuit claims the SUV ran over her right hand, requiring reconstructive surgery. "It was horrific," she said. "It was a nightmare that is forever haunting me." 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spent nearly four years investigating reports of unintended rollaways involving Jaguar Land Rover vehicles with a dial shifter. In August, the agency closed its investigation, saying it "has not identified any mechanical or electronic faults" causing the vehicle to shift out of park and blamed "operator error." 

Documents from the agency also say if a driver opens the door when the Range Rover is not in park, an alert sounds and a message flashes on the dashboard.

NHTSA told CBS News in a statement it "is aware of these incidents and continues to monitor the issue." The agency noted that "Closing the investigation does not prohibit the agency from taking further action if new information comes to light. The agency encourages vehicle owners to report any suspected safety-related defect to NHTSA online or by calling the agency's Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET." 

"Drivers are confused and Land Rover knows that drivers are confused," said Attorney Dylan Ruga, of the Stalwart Law Group, who is representing Farhat and Warsavsky. "And this unfortunately is the inevitable result of what happens when people think the car is in park and it is not."  

Following the 2016 death of "Star Trek" actor Anton Yelchin in a suspected rollaway incident involving his Jeep Grand Cherokee with a recalled shifter, many carmakers added safeguards on new vehicles to prevent such an incident. Land Rover added the feature in 2018 to hybrid Range Rovers only. 

The automaker declined to comment on the specific incidents, citing pending litigating. 

"Jaguar Land Rover North America, LLC is committed to the safety of our customers and is saddened to hear of these incidents. As this matter is now related to pending litigation, we are unable to comment further," the company said in a statement. 

In court filings, Land Rover denied fault and blamed operator error. 

"I want to get it out there that there's a problem with this car," Farhat said. "I don't want anyone else to go through this again."

Consumer Reports started requiring rollaway protection for cars to earn top ratings in 2017.

"If you get in the habit of putting the parking brake on, which a lot of people don't do, that could absolutely prevent the car from rolling," said Consumer Reports Senior Director of Auto Testing Jake Fisher.

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    Kris Van Cleave is a congressional correspondent for CBS News based in Washington, D.C.