Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wash. Appeals Court to Review 'Accurate' Libel Case

SEATTLE - MARCH 16:  The cover of the last eve...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals in Washington is expected to review the merits of a defamation action brought by crane operator Warren Yeakey against the Seattle Post-Intelligencer following an 11-page order by Eric Schmidt, commissioner of Division II of the appellate court, citing an "obvious error" by the trial judge.

Yeakey sued the Post-Intelligencer in November 2008, based on a series of front-page articles involving a fatal construction site accident in which Yeakey was the operator of the crane that collapsed and killed a man. One of the articles at issue reported Yeakey's prior convictions for drug-related crimes. Although the reporting on the convictions was accurate, the defamation complaint alleges that the Post-Intelligencer thereby implied that Yeakey was responsible for the construction site accident.

Attorneys for Hearst Communications, Inc., the Post-Intelligencer's owner, twice were unsuccessful in their efforts to get the trial court to throw out the libel claim, arguing that the truthfulness of the articles was an absolute defense.

Commissioner Schmidt was more sympathetic in his Order, writing that "The law in Washington does not recognize a claim for defamation by implication based on a juxtaposition of true statements. No set of facts exists that entitles Yeakey to relief."

The order merely found the trial judge's denial of the defendant's motion to dismiss erroneous, but does not dismiss Yeakey's claim. Meanwhile, the Post-Intelligencer stopped printing a paper version earlier this year and is now available online only.

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