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CBS and Brian Cole's $131 million verdict against Ford

What media bias? CBS issues a press release for plaintiffs' lawyers in discussing the Brian Cole case. Cole rolled his Ford Explorer and died when he was ejected from the vehicle. But lawyers are creative sorts, and Ford was sued on the theory that Cole was wearing his seat-belt, but that it magically stopped working; Ford presented evidence that Cole wasn't wearing the seat-belt. A Jasper County, Mississippi, jury awarded the family of Cole, a marginal prospect for the New York Mets, $131 million, and CBS wonders if you, dear viewers, might be subject to defective seat-belts.

Ford, facing punitive damages, settled for an unknown amount rather than appeal for a new trial before the same judge.

Now here's what CBS didn't tell you:

  • Cole was speeding.

  • A passenger in the Explorer was wearing a seatbelt. He wasn't ejected; he survived.

  • The accident happened in Florida. So why was a Mississippi jury deciding the case? Yeah, exactly.

  • This was the third trial. The first two ended in mistrials.

  • The settlement was much less than the jury verdict, despite the possibility of punitive damages.

  • The attorneys negotiated a 50% contingent fee for themselves.

That last point was revealed when a post-settlement dispute over how to divvy up the fees resulted in a collateral lawsuit; the settlement is sitting in an escrow account until the lawyers agree how the money gets distributed. [Clarion-Ledger]

More detail on the suit at MS Litigation Review, where Philip Thomas has been covering the case since February.

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The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.