A Florida jury sided with wrestler Hulk Hogan Friday in his sex tape lawsuit against Gawker Media, and awarded him $115 million for invasion of privacy. Gawker is appealing the ruling. The celebrity wrestler, whose legal name is Terry Bollea, filed suit accusing the website of invading his privacy when it published a portion of a video showing him having sex with the wife of a former friend, along with 1,400 words describing the video. Bollea, 62, sought $100 million in damages from Gawker. He was awarded $55 million in economic injuries and $60 million for emotional distress, Reuters reports. The jury returns on Monday to consider punitive damages.
The founder of Gawker Media Nick Denton said:
“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. 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.”
The case stemmed from the media company’s decision to publish an edited sex tape showing the former wrestler having sex with Heather Clem, the ex-wife of shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. At the crux of the trial was the disputed news value of the tape: Gawker Media alleged its publication of the tape was protected by the First Amendment given its perceived newsworthiness; Hogan’s legal team argued that the tape unjustly pried into his personal life. The jury rendered its verdict just hours after closing arguments concluded Friday afternoon.
Hulk Hogan bangs his friends wife on tape. Tape is leaked. Hogan awarded $115million for ’emotional distress’
Only in America#WooBrother
— Adam Catterall (@AdamCatterall) March 19, 2016
Apart from the statement released by Denton, Gawker Media writers and editors, who had been weighing in on the case sometimes gleefully for months on social media, did not offer any opinions on the ruling. And Gawker itself, which had been covering the case, “A Judge Told Us to Take Down Our Hulk Hogan Sex Tape Post. We Won’t.” also had not published a post on the website hours after the ruling.
Advocates for free speech, however, spoke up, saying that ruinous media fines were in contradiction with the First Amendment and that Gawker was well within its rights as a news site to publish interesting stories pertaining to celebrities. An attorney for Gawker, Michael Sullivan, said in court Friday that while jurors may find the publication of the tape “unpleasant,” the post was still free speech under the Constitution.
“We ask you to protect something that some of you may find unpleasant,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “To write, to speak, to think about all topics, to hold public figures accountable. It is right in the long run for our freedoms.”
Hulk Hogan seemed upset by the scenario and didn’t speak to the media, and declined to sign an autograph request from a fan.
Told ya I was gonna slam another giant HH
— Hulk Hogan (@HulkHogan) March 19, 2016