Defamation Suit Filed Against’Smyth County News’

By: E&P Staff

A Virginia union activist is seeking $1.35 million in damages for alleged defamation by the Smyth County (Va.) News.

Melissa Trail alleges in the lawsuit she was defamed by a March 2009 article about her indictment on charges of identity theft.

According to an account by reporter Daniel Gilbert in the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier, the Smyth County News reported Trail was indicted on charges of distributing the names, salaries and Social Security numbers of many employees at a General Dynamics plant, where Trail was a leader of a union strike in 2008. The newspaper article said the information was posted at “strike shakes” around the plant.

The indictment charged Trail only with obtaining the identity information “with intent to distribute.” Trail, however, never contacted the paper to point out the error or ask for a correction, even after the criminal charges were dismissed last August.

In October, the paper reported the dismissal of the charge and the indictment of another person on identity theft during the strike.

Earlier this month, according to the Herald Courier story, the Smyth County News learned of Trail’s objection to the article, and published a correction the next day.

Trail’s attorney, however, argues the paper breached a legal duty to “correctly ascertain the facts upon which its published articles … are based.” The lawsuit also names Media General Inc., the corporate parent of both papers, as a defendant. Media General has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation.

Just before filing the newspaper lawsuit, Trail sued General Dynamics for $10.5 million, claiming the defense contractor used the Smyth County News article to defame her.
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Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the Bristol Herald Courier was a defendant in the defamation suit.

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