Hulk Hogan Awarded $115 Million in Privacy Suit Against Gawker
Retired wrestler Hulk Hogan was awarded $115 million in damages on Friday (March 18) by a Florida jury in an invasion of privacy case against Gawker.com over its publication of a sex tape — an astounding figure that tops the $100 million he had asked for, that will probably grow before the trial concludes, and that could send a cautionary signal to online publishers despite the likelihood of an appeal by Gawker.
The lawsuit alleged that Gawker violated Hogan’s privacy after publishing in 2012 a secretly recorded video of the 62-year-old ex-pro wrestler having sex with the wife of his former best friend, radio “shock jock” Bubba the Love Sponge.
The wrestler, known in court by his legal name, Terry G. Bollea, sobbed as the verdict was announced in late afternoon, according to people in the courtroom. The jury had considered the case for about six hours.
Mr. Bollea’s team said the verdict represented… “a statement as to the public’s disgust with the invasion of privacy disguised as journalism,”
Adding: “The verdict says, ‘No more.’ ”
The damages awarded to Mr. Bollea on Friday were compensatory: $55 million for economic harm and $60 million for emotional distress. Punitive damages will be established separately, which raises the prospect that Gawker will have to submit to a detailed examination of its finances in court so the jury can assess the scale of the damages.
Gawker’s founder, Nick Denton, said in his own statement that the jury did not hear all the facts.
“We feel very positive about the appeal that we have already begun preparing, as we expect to win this case ultimately,” he said.
The meaning of the verdict will not be clear for some time. But the perception that a Manhattan media company, noted for its wry tone and its insistence that nearly any topic is fair game, was brought low by a celebrity fighting for privacy is most likely to resonate widely across the industry.
Mr. Bollea’s lawyers said that the publication of the video was a gratuitous invasion of privacy, and had no news value. One of them, Kenneth G. Turkel, took particular aim at the contention that Gawker’s posting of the video was an act of journalism and was therefore protected under the First Amendment.
He described the publication as “morbid and sensational prying.”
He maintained that had the site’s editors been operating under the rules of professional journalism, they would have contacted Mr. Bollea to ask his permission to publish the video, or at least to warn him that they were going to do so. In any case, Mr. Turkel said, it served only as fodder for readers’ clicks and a source for advertising revenue.
Gawker had argued that its posting of a brief excerpt of the tape was protected by the Constitution, and that Mr. Bollea had given up his right to privacy by talking often in public about his sex life.
“He has chosen to seek the spotlight,” a lawyer for Gawker, Michael Sullivan, said.
“He has consistently chosen to put his private life out there.”
In his closing statement for the defense, Mr. Sullivan insisted that uncovering the sometimes less-than-laudatory activities of public figures “is what journalists do, and at the end of the day it’s what we want journalists to do.”
After accounts of the video and images from it surfaced online — but several months before Mr. Daulerio’s 2012 post — Mr. Bollea addressed it in an appearance on a television show run by the website TMZ and in other interviews.
“The public discussion was already going on,” Mr. Sullivan said.
The verdict is a blow for Gawker, which has rebranded itself as a politics site since it published the tape and has sought to clean up its image in the wake of a series of scandals.
The company is technically required to post a bond, which is capped at $50 million, before appealing. But it will almost certainly appeal that bond.
In the statement on Friday, Gawker said its team was “disappointed the jury was unable to see key evidence and hear testimony from the most important witness.”
That was an apparent reference to Mr. Clem. According to documents unsealed on Friday, the radio host initially told federal investigators that Mr. Bollea was aware that his tryst with Mrs. Clem was being recorded. But he later changed that account after Mr. Bollea sued him, saying the former wrestler did not know a camera was present.
Apparently fearing that if he testified in the trial he could be subject to prosecution for giving differing accounts of the events, Mr. Clem invoked his right to not incriminate himself and was not called as a witness.
The plaintiff’s legal team issued its own statement, saying that during the three and a half years since the lawsuit was filed, Mr. Clem had testified only once under oath and had “confirmed that Terry Bollea had no knowledge of being filmed or anything to do with it.”
Hulk Hogan Awarded $25 Million More in Sex Tape Suit Against Gawker
A Florida jury awarded Hulk Hogan $25 million in punitive damages Monday in his sex-tape lawsuit against Gawker Media.
The decision came just days after Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, was awarded $115 million; $15 million more than he had even asked for.
In Monday’s decision, the jury assessed Gawker $15 million in punitive damages, while its founder, Nick Denton, was responsible for $10 million.
“I feel great,” Hogan said Monday outside the St. Petersburg courthouse.
“I’m really happy about everything that’s happened. We’ve protected a lot of people from going [through] what I went through.”