crane collapse.jpg
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer may no longer exist as a paper, but its stories live on in many ways--including in court, where owner Hearst Communications has

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Warren Yeakey, Former Crane Operator, Fails to Get his Defamation Suit Against the P-I Past State Appeals Court

crane collapse.jpg
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer may no longer exist as a paper, but its stories live on in many ways--including in court, where owner Hearst Communications has been battling a defamation suit over a package of stories the paper ran about a disastrous Bellevue construction accident (see above) and a crane operator named Warren Yeakey. On this matter, the company got a reprieve today as the state Court of Appeals reversed a lower court's opinion and quashed the suit.

At issue was the paper's coverage of a large crane that collapsed atop a Bellevue condo building in November of 2006, killing a 31-year-old Microsoft attorney who was inside. "Operator in crane wreck has history of drug abuse," the P-I announced in a headline to one story, which delved into the criminal history of Yeakey. That history, according to the story, included "at least six drug convictions," as well as convictions for domestic violence and soliciting a prostitute.

Yeakey sued, charging that the coverage implied that he was to blame for the accident. In fact, a drug test demanded of Yeakey came back negative, and the state Department of Labor & Industries determined that the collapse was caused entirely by an engineering flaw, not human error.

The problem for Yeakey, in his legal quest for retribution against the P-I, is that all the facts in that story and others were true, as even Yeakey admits, according to today's ruling. The law does not recognize defamation by implication alone--unless a publication omits relevant facts. But Yeakey is not claiming such is the case. As the Court of Appeals noted, the P-I stories cited other potential reasons the crane could have collapsed, and said an investigation was ongoing.

The court might also have added that, a month after the accident, Yeakey got some serious love from the P-I itself. Robert Jamieson, the once feisty scribe who turned elusive when the P-I's print edition went under, devoted an entire column to the way that Yeakey had, in his view, become "another kind of victim, but twice over--first, when he suffered minor injuries in the accident, and later when his family's life and his past unexpectedly became an open book." In other words, Jamieson pretty much dissed his own paper's coverage.

And then, quoting Yeakey's wife, he went on to defend the man.

Kristina Yeakey wants people to see that her spouse of nearly six years is an example of how to turn a life around. He went through intensive drug rehab. He got his GED. He earned college credits. He went to crane safety classes and logged more than 6,500 hours in a crane.

Of course, Yeakey might say that the damage had already been done. But as far as the Court of Appeals is concerned, he's out of luck.

 
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