The family of a New York Mets prospect killed in a 2001 rollover accident while leaving spring training won a $131 million judgment against the Ford Motor Co. from a Laurel, Miss., jury Monday. The case was then settled before the punitive phase for a confidential amount, the plaintiff's attorney, Ted Leopold, said.
Brian Cole, a top outfield prospect for the Mets, died from injuries suffered on March 31, 2001, when his Ford Explorer Sport veered off State Highway 8 in Florida and rolled over.
Former Mets GM Jim Duquette testified during the trial.
"He was just a wonderful kid," Leopold said. "As Jim Duquette stated, they were building the team around him. He was a remarkable athlete. He was going to be a superstar. Jim and the Mets organization pegged him with Torii Hunter, [Jose] Reyes. They had him pegged with all those types of guys. His numbers were as good."
The family contended "the Explorer is defective and unreasonably dangerous for the uses for which it was marketed because the vehicle has an unreasonable tendency to roll when used as Ford marketed it to be used [as a station wagon replacement], and that the vehicle is also defective and unreasonably dangerous from an occupant protection or 'crashworthiness' standpoint because the safety belt failed to remain locked and permitted Brian to be thrown from the car and killed."
Ford admitted no wrongdoing in a statement issued after the settlement. Contradicting the plaintiffs, the company maintained Cole was not driving at a safe speed and had not been properly belted.
"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 read. "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. 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. The 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."
Eleven of the 12 jury members agreed on the verdict against Ford, after which the case was settled. Nine were needed for a resolution. It was the third time the case was being tried. The first two cases ended in hung juries.
The case was heard in the Circuit Court of the First Judicial District of Jasper County, Miss.
Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.