Ohio court sends TV news defamation case back to lower court

COLUMBUS (AP) — An appeals court must reconsider its decision that a defamation lawsuit can proceed over allegations a television station falsely labeled three siblings as “robbers,” Ohio’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

A Columbus family sued WBNS-TV in 2016 after the station reported on a hover board robbery and included a surveillance photo showing the faces of three unnamed individuals. Police had released the photo, asking for the public’s help in identifying the individuals they said may have been involved.

The television’s website story was headlined, “Robbers Put Gun to Child’s Head and Steal Hoverboard,” and underneath was the photo of the three siblings, who police later said weren’t involved.

The siblings’ parents sued the station, alleging defamation. In response, WBNS argued, among other things, that the family couldn’t prove the station acted negligently in relying on police information and that the station didn’t defame the siblings, who weren’t named.

A Franklin County judge in 2016 agreed with WBNS’ arguments and dismissed the case, but Ohio’s 10th District Court of Appeals later reversed that decision, ruling the lawsuit could proceed.

The Supreme Court said the appeals court needed to further explore whether the station acted negligently in posting the headline.