Retraction Law in Washington

Note: This page covers information specific to Washington and should be read in conjunction with the general section on retraction in the section on Correcting or Retracting Your Work After Publication which has additional information applicable to all states.

Although Washington does not have a retraction statute, the Supreme Court of Washington decided one case, Coffman v. Spokane Chronicle Pub. Co., 117 P. 596 (Wash. 1911), involving the effect of a publisher's offer to retract its statements in a libel case. In the Coffman case, the plaintiffs Elizabeth and Thomas Coffman brought a defamation suit against the Spokane Chronicle for statements made in the a series of articles published in the Chronicle about their marriage. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the Coffmans, and the Spokane Chronicle appealed the jury verdict in favor of the Coffmans, arguing in part that they "had been at all times ready and willing to publish any fair, reasonable, and truthful article or correction which the [plaintiffs] ... might desire" and that the plaintiffs neglected to request such retraction. The court disagreed, noting that duty falls on a newspaper to issue a "full and complete retraction" if it has libeled a person, and that the newspaper can offer the retraction in mitigation of damages.

It is difficult to predict how a court will rule on whether the above standard applies to online publications given that the state only has the Coffman case from 1911 and no retraction statute. However, if someone contacts you with a retraction request, you should first determine whether a retraction is warranted; review the steps under the handling a retraction request section of this guide for help in making this assessment. If you determine that a retraction is appropriate, you should issue one so that you can use it to argue that your damages should be mitigated in accordance with the Coffman decision.

Even if your online publishing activities do not fall within the scope of the Coffman decision, your willingness to correct past errors in your work will provide several benefits. It will make your work more accurate and reliable, which will increase your credibility, influence, and (hopefully) your page views. It will also diminish the likelihood of your being sued in the first place, as it might placate the potential plaintiff. Furthermore, courts and juries may find a retraction shows your good faith, which will benefit you in a defamation suit.


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