Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Alleged Neglectful Mom Remark Sparks Libel Suit

Kanawha River; downtown Charleston, West Virgi...
Kanawha River; downtown Charleston, West Virginia;  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A Fayette County (W.Va.) woman has filed libel and emotional distress claims against The Charleston Gazette parent Daily Gazette Co., alleging she was defamed by comments included in the daily's profile of a mortician suggesting she was culpable in the deaths of her four children who perished in a house fire.

The complaint in Bohanna v. Daily Gazette Company (Case No. 12-C-670), filed in Kanawha Circuit Court, includes counts alleging defamation and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Though not identified by name in the purportedly offending comments, plaintiff Linda Bohanna alleges she was defamed by statements that appeared in the Gazette's April 18, 2011, article entitled I Want Family to Mean Something attributed to funeral home director Junora Walton.

As reported by the Gazette and Courthouse News Service, in the article, Walton recounted  having to deal with  four children killed in the blaze one month after she became a mortician. "Their mother had left them alone in the house with a space heater while she went out with friends to a club," Walton is quoted as saying. The article contrasts the funeral director's response to the unnamed mother to the community's hostility, quoting Walton as saying: "Did I want to smack her around?...You bet I did...But I didn't...I told her, 'I'm not supposed to judge you.' And I was there for her. Compassionate."

The plaintiff alleges the article refers to her and her children who died in the September 1984, fire. Her complaint claims the defendant daily should have known Walton's statement was false, having covered the tragic event. The complaint seeks punitive damages and medical expenses against the defendant.

According to the Gazette article, the daily, in its online archives, subsequently included the following Note: "Correction. An earlier version of this story included a recollection by Junora Walton-of a fire that killed four children in 1984. According to a news clipping from the time, the recollection was misstated. The children's mother was home at the time of the fire, the past story states, and received burns in the blaze."

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