(CN) – A Seattle newspaper did not defame a crane operator by reporting his history of drug abuse in its coverage of a fatal accident, the Washington Court of Appeals ruled.
Warren Yeakey was operating a crane on a construction site in 2006 when his crane collapsed. The accident killed someone in a nearby apartment.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran a story with the headline: “Operator in crane wreck has history of drug abuse.” Next to the story was a sidebar called “Gaps in Safety Controls,” which included the information that crane operators often inspect the crane, and they are not required by the state to take drug tests. Another article detailed Yeakey’s criminal history.
Yeakey took a drug test, which came back negative, and investigators blamed the wreck on flawed engineering design, not on operator error.
Yeakey sued the newspaper and its parent company, Hearst Communications, for defamation. The trial court denied Hearst’s motion to dismiss.
On appeal, Judge Lisa Worswick overruled the decision and remanded the case for dismissal. Worswick wrote that the positioning of the words and photos in the paper’s coverage did not amount to defamation.
“A plaintiff may not base a claim on the negative implication of true statements,” Worswick ruled.