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$18M verdict against Pensacola newspaper is reversed

Published October 22, 2006


PENSACOLA - An appeals court reversed a $18.28-million jury verdict against the Pensacola News Journal for a 1998 story a businessman claims cast him in a false light.

The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday that Joe Anderson Jr.'s case should have been dismissed because he mischaracterized his lawsuit as a false-light claim in an attempt to sidestep a two-year statute of limitations that applies in libel cases.

"We're delighted with the decision. It reinforces certainly the First Amendment in a big way in Florida," newspaper attorney Dennis Larry said Saturday. "It was the reversal of the biggest libel verdict against a newspaper in Florida, and for that I'm very glad."

The claim stems from a 1998 newspaper article which Anderson, founder of the Anderson Columbia road paving company in Lake City, said cast him in a bad light. He alleged the newspaper's use of the term "shot and killed" in a story falsely implied he had murdered his wife although the article two sentences later noted authorities determined it had been a hunting accident.

The News Journal referred to the shooting, that occurred several years earlier, in a series on Anderson and his company that it published in 1998 and 1999.

[Last modified October 21, 2006, 23:44:38]

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