Court Orders Gawker to Pay Hulk Hogan $115M for Posting His Sex Tape
A jury has awarded former wrestler Hulk Hogan $115 million in damages after finding that online news site Gawker violated his privacy when it posted a video clip of him having sex with his friend’s wife.
In a Florida state courtroom, the battle royale between former wrestler Hulk Hogan (real name Terry Bollea) and New York news and gossip site Gawker has come to a close—at least the first round.
After years of legal wrangling, Hogan’s attorneys finally had the chance to argue at trial that Gawker invaded the wrestler’s privacy. Gawker’s lawyers maintained the post was protected speech. Hogan demanded $100 million in damages, but apparently the jury decided that wasn’t enough. The four women and two men awarded the wrestler $55 million for economic injuries and $60 million for emotional distress. And it could be even more. The jury will reconvene on Monday to determine punitive damages.
“We’re exceptionally happy with the verdict,” Hogan’s legal team said in a statement. “We think it represents a statement as to the public’s disgust with the invasion of privacy disguised as journalism. The verdict says no more.”
This verdict is the culmination of a nearly four-year legal battle over the post. In 2012, Gawker editor A.J. Daulerio posted a piece (“Even for a Minute, Watching Hulk Hogan Have Sex in a Canopy Bed is Not Safe For Work but Watch it Anyway”) that included a 101-second video highlight reel from a 30-minute DVD that Gawker says it anonymously received. The tape featured Hogan (whose real name is Terry Bollea) having sex with Heather Clem, the wife of his best friend at the time, radio host Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.
Hogan sued, claiming that publishing the clip, among other things, invaded his privacy and caused the former WWE wrestler emotional distress. Throughout the trial, Hogan’s lawyers have sought to show that, in posting the video, Gawker acted with a reckless disregard for his privacy, pointing to jokes about the tape made by editors in a private chat at the time. They also tried to portray Gawker as callous and heedless, pointing to founder Nick Denton’s unapologetic vision for the site, as well as a comment in Daulerio’s deposition that he would post a sex tape of anyone over the age of 4. (Gawker’s team maintains he was being flippant.)
Meanwhile, Gawker’s attorneys claimed that posting the article and video was protected by the First Amendment. They say the video was newsworthy, not an invasion of privacy, because other publications had already broken news of the tape. Hogan had also spoken openly about his family and sex life for years, they argued. The video only included 9 seconds of sex, they say, and Daulerio’s story included a broader discussion of the value of seeing a celebrity have sex, well, just like the rest of us.
That argument apparently held little sway with the jury, which deliberated for less than six hours before siding with Hogan. And yet, much like in wrestling itself, it’s unlikely Gawker is giving up without seeking a rematch. The site is expected to appeal the decision.
Earlier this week, a Florida appellate court ruled that sealed legal documents related to the case should be made public, and Gawker’s legal team appears to believe they will help support their appeal. Those papers were unsealed this afternoon while the jury was deliberating.
“Given key evidence and the most important witness were both improperly withheld from this jury, we all knew the appeals court will need to resolve the case,” Nick Denton said in a statement. “I want to thank our lawyers for their outstanding work and am confident that we would have prevailed at trial if we had been allowed to present the full case to the jury.”
“That’s why we feel very positive about the appeal that we have already begun preparing, as we expect to win this case ultimately,” he added.
Gawker has maintained that Hulk Hogan’s best friend, Bubba the Love Sponge, who made the sex tape, should have testified as he “originally told his radio listeners that Hulk Hogan knew he was being taped,” the site said earlier in a statement. Whether Hogan knew he was being videotaped is disputed by the two teams.
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