(September 7, 2010) -- Ford Motor Co. reportedly settled a lawsuit filed by the family of a top Major League Baseball prospect who died when his Explorer flipped, days after a Mississippi jury awarded the plaintiffs $131 million.
Ford reached a confidential settlement with Brian Cole’s family, prompted by the jury’s whopping $131 million award and the prospect of additional punitive damages in the Circuit Court of the First Judicial District of Jasper County, Miss., the Associated Press reported.
The plaintiffs initially filed suit in 2004, seeking $140 million in damages on the grounds that Cole, a top New York Mets prospect at the time of his death, would have been an all-star player making top dollar, according to the Mississippi Litigation Review.
The $131 million verdict was handed down in the suit's third trial, as the first two resulted in hung juries, ESPN reported.
The family alleged that the Explorer is defective and prone to rollovers, and that the vehicle’s safety belt malfunctioned and allowed Cole to be thrown from the tumbling car, sustaining fatal injuries, ESPN reported.
Ford denied the allegations and said the accident was not caused by any defects in the Explorer, but by the driver’s dangerous speed and actions, according to a statement provided to ESPN.
“This was a tragic accident, and our sympathy goes out to the Cole family for their loss, but it was unfair of them to blame Ford,” the statement said, according to ESPN. “Brian Cole had been driving over 80 mph when he drifted off road for unknown reasons, suddenly turned his steering wheel 295 degrees, lost control, and caused the vehicle to roll over more than three times.”
Ford pointed out that Cole died because he was not wearing a seatbelt. The passenger, who was belted in, suffered only minor injuries, according to ESPN.
The stratospheric award and subsequent settlement are only the latest in a long string of legal battles over the Explorer SUV’s alleged defects.
In February a California jury awarded $23.4 million to a woman who became a quadriplegic after a rollover accident.
Also, in November the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear Ford’s appeal to overturn an $82.6 million judgment for a woman similarly injured when her Explorer flipped.