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Defamation: Kentucky Kingdom Amusement Co. v. Belo Kentucky, Inc. d/b/a WHAS-TV


Greenebaum represented Kentucky Kingdom Amusement Co. in a public figure defamation case against WHAS-TV. The action stemmed from a 1994 televised news report and a 1996 televised “investigative report” concerning an accident on a roller coaster at Kentucky Kingdom. The case was tried before a jury in 1998. Eric L. Isonwas the lead trial attorney for Greenebaum. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Kentucky Kingdom against WHAS-TV in the amount of $3,975,000 ($2,500,000 of which were punitive damages).

The trial judgment against WHAS-TV was appealed. Eric L. Ison and Melissa Norman Bork, Members in our Louisville office, handled the appeal. After years on appeal, first at the Kentucky Court of Appeals and then in the Kentucky Supreme Court, the judgment of the trial court was affirmed by the Kentucky Supreme Court in 2006. In a published opinion, the majority of the Supreme Court stated: “This case is full of evidence from which the jury could conclude that WHAS-TV acted with actual malice. Among the evidence was the following: that there was a failure to correct any inaccuracies; that there was a continuing commitment to running and rerunning the same story line; that there was a significant failure to investigate or verify credibility; and the general make up and presentation of the story exhibited hostility. A reasonable trier of fact could determine that there was defamation.”

The Court went on to conclude: “Media and broadcast outlets have no First Amendment protection to publish false information with actual malice. Those who do so must be accountable for the damages caused by their actions. Here, the jury found against WHAS-TV on all of the contraverted facts.”

With statutory judgment interest running at 12% per annum, the judgment had grown to $7.4 million when it was paid in 2006.

The published Opinion is reported as Kentucky Kingdom Amusement Company v. Belo Kentucky, Inc., d/b/a WHAS-TV, 179 S.W.3d 785 (Ky. 2006) (the Opinion lists lawyers outside of Greenebaum who also were involved in the case for Kentucky Kingdom).

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