Court jump-starts Pep Boys’ defamation suit against Tampa TV station

Tuesday, June 23, 1998

Pep Boys' defamation suit against a Tampa television station is back before a circuit court judge in Florida's Hillsborough County.

An appeals court recently reversed a lower court's ruling that dismissed the lawsuit involving an investigative report about “car repair nightmares.”

The south Tampa repair shop sued WTVT-Channel 13 after the Fox network affiliate aired a report on automobile air-conditioning repairs in November 1994.

The report featured an undercover visit to the Pep Boys repair shop during which a company employee claimed to have detected a leak in the evaporator unit of a Ford and recommended repairs the report characterized as unnecessary.

The report concluded with an “expert” mechanic determining that “the evaporator is fine.”

However, Frank A. Miller, attorney for Pep Boys, said that the repair shop
had, indeed, correctly diagnosed the vehicle.

“Actually, the repairs were necessary,” Miller said. “Individual repair shops documented the very same leak, [proving] their investigative report was totally inaccurate.”

Pep Boys sued after the station refused to air a retraction.

WTVT news director Phil Metlin and Gregory G. Jones, an attorney for the station, did not return phone calls.

The 2nd District Court of Appeals said that the case contains unresolved factual disputes and that “the broadcast is ambiguous and reasonably susceptible of a defamatory meaning.”

The June 3 ruling sends the case back to Judge Gasper Ficarrotta, unless the station asks the appeals court to rehear the case and it agrees to do so.