Lawyer: Ford, family settle Mississippi lawsuit over player’s death in Explorer rollover crash

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Lawyer: Ford, family settle in player crash death

JACKSON, Miss. — Ford Motor Co. on Thursday settled a Mississippi lawsuit over a 2001 accident in which a New York Mets prospect was killed when his SUV crashed in the Florida Panhandle, a lawyer for the player’s family said.

The settlement came shortly after the jury in Jasper County had awarded $131 million in actual damages to Cole’s family and before it was to consider possible punitive damages, Tab Turner an attorney for the family of Brian Cole, told The Associated Press.

Turner, from Little Rock, Ark., said the settlement amount and terms were confidential.

“The family is glad this is finally over. I thought the verdict was an appropriate response to the evidence. They put zero percent of the fault on Brian Cole and 100 percent of the fault on Ford Motor Co. for a defective and unreasonably dangerous vehicle,” Turner said.

Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans said the accident was a tragedy and the company offered its sympathy to the Cole family for their loss.

However, Evans said in a statement that the Mississippi court “denied Ford a fair trial by excluding evidence that the jury should have heard and considered about Brian’s driving and the speculative nature of plaintiffs’ claims.”

Cole, then 22, died from injuries he suffered when his Ford Explorer overturned as he drove home on March 31, 2001, from spring training in Port St. Lucie, Fla., to Meridian, Miss., with his cousin, Ryan Cole. Brian Cole was ejected from the SUV.

He was taking his Explorer home and was to fly Sunday to Binghamton, N.Y., to join the Mets’ Double-A team for its season opener.

The one-car accident occurred on Interstate 10 near Florida Highway 286, just south of the Georgia border and about 45 miles northwest of Tallahassee, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Brian Cole, who was single and the youngest of five children, was pronounced dead at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Ryan Cole, then 17, was treated and released.

Turner said the family made two claims: the Explorer was unstable and its safety belts didn’t work in rollovers.

“That permitted Brian Cole to be thrown out of the car during the rollover despite being belted,” he said.

Evans said Ford blamed speeding and reckless driving for the accident.

“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,” Evans said. “He was not wearing his safety belt and died after being ejected from the vehicle. His passenger, who was properly belted, walked away from the accident.”

Brian Cole went to Meridian High School and was Baseball America’s junior college player of the year in 1998 at Navarro Junior College in Texas. He was selected by the Mets in the 18th round of the 1998 amateur draft and turned down a football scholarship to Florida State.

(This version CORRECTS Corrects name of Ford spokeswoman to Marcey. This story is part of AP’s general news and financial services.)

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