The Brian Cole verdict against Ford Motor Co. is on the front page of today’s Clarion-Ledger. Here is the article. A Ford spokesperson is quoted in the article as saying that the trial was unfair.
Judge Billy Joe Landrum was the trial judge and he conducted the trial in Laurel with a Paulding jury. The article identifies Tab Turner from Arkansas as the lead plaintiff lawyer. Barry Ford and Bill Jones of Baker Donelson in Jackson defended the case with Ford’s national roll-over counsel. I am not a fan of the national defense counsel model in Mississippi, but I’ll save that discussion for another day.
The verdict was $131 million for Cole (who died) and $1.5 for the passenger of the Ford Explorer (Cole’s cousin who survived). The two were in a roll-over accident on I-10 in Florida. Yea, I know: what was the trial doing with a Paulding jury? There was a venue hook somehow.
Yesterday after the verdict came down I received numerous reports on it that placed the verdict range from $130 million to $235 million. A Ridgeland attorney with absolutely no connection to the case or involved law firms was the only person to provide the exact correct breakdown of the verdict.
The case settled before entering the punitive damages phase. Ford is getting second guessed for settling the case, but I don’t have a problem with it conceptually. Since I do not know the amount of the settlement, I can only comment in general terms.
First, a punitive verdict in the case could have easily been over $100 million in addition to the compensatory verdict.
Second, this was the third trial. Ford has probably already spent $30-$50 million in defense costs and expenses. The result of a winning appeal would likely be the chance to try the case again, presumably before the same judge and another Paulding jury. Ford’s cost for the appeal and re-trying the case would likely be in the $5-$10 million range.
So if the Plaintiffs discounted the verdict to settle the case, Ford might have felt that settlement was the best business decision.