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Ford Settles With Minor Leaguer’s Family After Losing Verdict

Ford Motor Co., after being ordered to pay a baseball player’s estate $131 million, settled a lawsuit over the Explorer rollover death before punitive damages could be considered in the trial.

Ford settled the case over the death of the former New York Mets minor league baseball player on confidential terms, said attorney Tab Turner, who represented the family of Brian Cole.

Cole, 27, was ejected from an Explorer in a March 2001 accident in Florida while he was going home from spring training with the Mets. His family claimed the Explorer’s seat belt was defective and failed to keep him in the vehicle during the rollover, Turner said yesterday in a phone interview.

“His belt was still buckled after the accident was over but he was thrown from the car,” Turner said. “Physical evidence” showed that Cole had been wearing the belt, he said.

The Jasper County, Mississippi, jury issued the verdict yesterday and also awarded $1.5 million to Cole’s cousin, Ryan, who was injured in the accident. The total verdict is the eighth-largest jury award in 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It’s the ninth biggest U.S. verdict against an auto company.

Brian Cole “was not wearing his safety belt,” Marcey Evans, a Ford spokeswoman, said in a phone interview. “His passenger, who was properly belted, walked away from the accident,” she said.

Cole had been traveling at more than 80 miles an hour before drifting off the road and losing control of the Explorer, she said. Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford is the second-largest U.S. automaker.

At the time of Cole’s death, he was an outfielder in the AA minor leagues, two steps from the majors, Turner said. “He had been player of the year in the Mets organization,” he said.

The lawsuit is Cole v. Ford Motor Co., 12-0076, Circuit Court, Jasper County, Mississippi.

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