A Kentucky appeals court has reversed a $3 million judgment against WHAS-TV Louisville over its coverage of a 1994 amusement-park accident. Although the court agreed with a jury that one of three statements at issue was libelous, there was no way of knowing how the jury factored the three reports into its original verdict.
In an early report, the station offered witnesses who said that a Kentucky Kingdom ride was dangerous and said that state inspectors agreed. Inspectors denied that they had made such a comment, although, Belo attorney John L. Tate noted, the ride had been shut down by inspectors who also ordered alterations. But the appeals court said the station's continuing to report that inspectors found the ride too dangerous after the state's chief inspector pronounced the ride basically safe met the standard of malice necessary for a libel judgement.
Other aspects of the station's reporting did not demonstrate malice, the court found, and because the court could not determine how much of the judgment-originally $4 million but reduced-was intended to apply to the finding that was affirmed, "we must reverse," the court said.
The case was remanded for a new trial, in which Belo intends to contest the one finding against it. The station was changing hands from the Providence Journal Co. during the reports, and the theme park is now owned by Six Flags, although the original plaintiffs remain parties to the suit.