Mississippi Jury Hands Ford Motor $131 Million Verdict in Explorer Death

September 3, 2010

A Mississippi jury ordered Ford Motor Co. to pay $131 million to the family of a man who died while driving an Explorer, an attorney for the family said on Thursday.

The trial centered on a 2001 accident involving Brian Cole, who at the time had been a prospect for the New York Mets, the family’s attorney Tab Turner said.

Turner said that after the jury returned its verdict, Ford reached a settlement with the family. He declined to disclose the amount.

The case was heard in Jasper County Circuit Court.

Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans said Cole had been driving over 80 miles per hour when he went off the road and was not wearing his safety belt. She said Ford would have won the case had the judge not excluded certain pieces of evidence.

“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,” Evans said.

Ford also declined to disclose the amount of the settlement.

Turner said the damages in this case were higher than other rollover cases because of Cole’s profession.

Ford severed a nearly century-old partnership with Firestone in 2001 after blaming the tiremaker for blowouts and rollover accidents that caused a slew of deaths and injuries in rollovers of its Explorer sport utility vehicle.

Ford, which has vigorously denied allegations the Explorer was especially prone to rollovers, earmarked $2.6 billion in the early part of the decade to replace a total of 19.5 million Firestone tires.

The automaker has also spent an unknown amount on settlements of wrongful death lawsuits involving the Explorer.

(Reporting by Dan Levine and Bernie Woodall)

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