Ford settles Explorer accident suit after losing $131 million verdict

(Bloomberg) Ford Motor Co. settled a lawsuit over the death of a New York Mets minor league baseball player in an Explorer accident after a jury ordered the company to pay his estate $131 million.

A Jasper County, Miss., jury awarded the verdict today and the case was settled on confidential terms before punitive damages could be considered, said attorney Tab Turner, who represented the family of Brian Cole.

Cole, 27, was ejected from an Explorer in a March 2001 accident in Florida while he was going home from spring training with the Mets. His family claimed the Explorer's seat belt was defective and failed to keep him in the vehicle during the rollover, Turner said.

“His belt was still buckled after the accident was over but he was thrown from the car,” Turner said today. “Physical evidence” showed that Cole had been wearing the belt, he said.

The jury also awarded $1.5 million to Cole's cousin, Ryan, who was injured in the accident. The total verdict is the eighth-largest jury award in 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It's the ninth biggest U.S. verdict against an auto company.

Brian Cole “was not wearing his safety belt,” said Marcey Evans, a Ford spokeswoman. “His passenger, who was properly belted, walked away from the accident,” she said.

Cole had been traveling at more than 80 miles an hour before drifting off the road and losing control of the Explorer, she said.

At the time of Cole's death, he was an outfielder in the AA minor leagues, two steps from the majors, Turner said. “He had been player of the year in the Mets organization,” he said.

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