(CN) – A newspaper in upstate New York did not defame two hunters with a headline stating that one of them was killed in an accident, because the rest of the article made clear the injury was not fatal, a Manhattan federal judge ruled.
Steven Triano and James Morrone sued Gannett Satellite Information Network and its publication, The Journal News, over the error.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Karas decided that “a reasonable person, having read the headline and the article, would not conclude that Triano had been killed.”
The two friends were hunting together in Harpersfield, N.Y., when Morrone, who was tracking a wounded deer, allegedly shot his hunting partner in the knee by mistake. Triano said in his amended complaint that he’s recovering from his injury.
The Journal News and its online site, lohud.com, published an article about the incident with the headline, “Purchase Man Charged with Felony in Hunting Death.”
The article went on to describe the events that culminated in the accidental shooting. It also listed the charges against Morrone, including felony reckless endangerment.
Triano and Morrone claimed only that the headline phrase “Hunting Death” was false.
“No other statement in the article is alleged to be false, let alone defamatory,” the ruling states.
Karas said the article would lead the reader to believe the headline was wrong, not that one of the hunters had been killed.
“Here, a reasonable person, having read the headline and the article, would not conclude that Triano had been killed,” the judge wrote. “For example, a reasonable person would not have concluded that Gannett was attempting to contact Triano after Triano’s death: nor would a reasonable person have concluded, when Gannett stated that Triano’s condition was not available last night, that Gannett was referring to the condition of Triano’s corpse.”
The judge also said that “though a headline can be defamatory standing alone, it cannot be so when it does not name the plaintiff,” which was the case in The Journal News article.