Attorney’s Spat Delays Payments to Family of Mississippi Athlete in Ford Case

December 23, 2010

A fee dispute among attorneys involved in a lawsuit over the 2001 death of a top New York Mets baseball prospect from Mississippi has delayed settlement payments to his family.

The family of Brian Cole, a former Meridian High School standout killed in a 2001 car crash, has asked a judge to sanction the attorneys, according to The Clarion-Ledger. The family wants settlement money not in dispute to be disbursed to them immediately.

In September, Ford Motor Co. reached a confidential settlement with the family after a Jasper County jury had awarded $131 million in actual damages in the case, and before it was to consider possible punitive damages.

Jackson lawyer Wayne Ferrell Jr. is suing Arkansas lawyer C. Tab Turner and others in Jasper County Chancery Court, seeking to force Turner to abide by a 2006 attorney-fee sharing agreement.

Ford agreed to place the settlement amount in an interest-bearing account while the dispute is being resolved. The automaker has no role in the fee dispute.

Chancery Judge David Clark has ordered that no withdrawals of any kind be made without further orders of the court.

In November, attorneys attempted to mediate their fee dispute. They agreed to allow a certain amount of the settlement to go to the family while they battle for the money.

However, one of the attorneys, James Nobles Jr., “reneged on the agreement,” Brian Herrington, one of Cole’s estate attorneys, said in a motion filed recently.

But Nobles’ attorney, Brady Kellems of Brookhaven, said his client already had agreed in November in a motion that undisputed settlement money should go to the Coles.

“We have no objection to a partial disbursement,” Kellems said.

Kellems said the judge also will be asked to force attorneys in the fee dispute to submit documentation of their expenses before they get any money.

Ferrell’s attorney, Hunter Lundy of Lake Charles, La., said Ferrell has made it clear the dispute over legal fees shouldn’t stop the Cole family from immediately receiving its settlement.

Turner couldn’t be reached for comment.

Cole was killed March 31, 2001, when he was thrown from a 2001 Ford Explorer. He was driving to Mississippi after spring training in Port St. Lucie, Fla., when the accident occurred on I-10 near the Florida-Georgia line.

The lawsuit blamed Brian Cole’s death on a defective seat belt and the tendency for that model to roll over. But Ford officials said Cole was speeding and not wearing a seat belt when the accident occurred.

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