In a landmark ruling going against U.S. automaker Ford, a $131 million verdict was returned by the jury leaving the manufacturer culpable for the wrongful death of Minor League baseball player Brian Cole. The New York Mets hopeful had been driving his Explorer and was thrown from the vehicle when it flipped, suffering terminal injuries. Get the full story, pictures and video below.

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Company spokeswoman Marcey Evans said Cole had been driving over 80 miles per hour when he went off the road and was not wearing his safety belt. Evans said that crucial evidence was omitted by the judge in the wrongful death suit, proving that Cole had not been wearing his seatbelt.

“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,” Evans said.

Of the numerous wrongful death suits brought against Ford, the $131 million verdict is the largest. The high sum was due to the victim’s profession, said attorney Tab Turner. Turner’s case stated that the Explorer’s susceptibility to overturning and faulty seatbelts caused the death of Cole.

“His belt was still buckled after the accident was over but he was thrown from the car.”

But spokesman Evans said that crucial evidence omitted in the case proved that Cole’s belt was not fastened properly, vindicating the automaker.

“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,” Evans said. “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 automaker’s flagship vehicle, Explorer, came under fire years ago for its tendency to flip, but Firestone was eventually blamed due to faulty tires. For Ford, the $131 million verdict may encourage further suits against its vehicle unless they are able to get the decision overturned.

What do you think of the landmark case? Should Ford have to pay for the damages? Let me know your opinion in the comment section! For more on the story, check out the pictures and video below!

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