Media & Communications Law

Doc at VA Hospital Wins $10M in Libel Suit Against St. Petersburg Times

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Hampered in its defense of a defamation suit by the death of its reporter, the St. Petersburg Times was hit with a libel judgment of more than $10 million on Friday.

A four-woman, two-man Florida state-court jury awarded $5.1 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages to the newspaper’s parent company after a five-day trial, the St. Petersburg Times reports.

The Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court litigation concerns three articles written by reporter Paul de la Garza that were published by the newspaper in December 2003. They discussed the reassignment of the plaintiff, Dr. Harold Kennedy, from his position as chief of medicine at the Veterans Administration Medical Center at Bay Pines, Fla., to a cardiology post.

De la Garza died of a heart attack in 2006 at age 44. The newspaper sought to use his reporting notes in evidence at trial, but was denied permission to do so.

The newspaper, which contended that the articles were true, intends to appeal the verdict.

“We believe our reporting and editing of these stories met the highest journalistic and ethical standards,” says Neil Brown, an executive editor and vice president of the newspaper.

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