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Lawsuits blame Range Rover gear shifter for deadly rollaway

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. 

Company documents from 2017 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." 

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." 

Attorney Dylan Ruga, who is representing Farhat and Warsavsky, told CBS News, "Drivers are confused and Land Rover knows that drivers are confused. 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."

One thing you can do to prevent a rollaway situation, experts say, is to get in the habit of setting the parking brake before getting out. 

Source: www.cbsnews.com