Hulk Smash: Hogan Awarded $115 Million in Gawker Sex Tape Trial

Hulk Hogan, whose given name is Terry Bollea, testifies in court on Tuesday, March 8, 2016, during his trial against Gawker Media, in St Petersburg, Fla. Hogan and his attorneys are suing Gawker for $100 million, saying that his privacy was violated, and he suffered emotional distress after Gawker posted …
John Pendygraft/Tampa Bay Times via AP, Pool

Former professional wrester Hulk Hogan wept openly in a Pinellas County, Florida, courtroom Friday evening after being awarded $115 million in damages in his invasion of privacy lawsuit against Gawker Media over the outlet’s publication of his sex tape.

Hogan, real name Terry Bollea, was awarded $55 million for economic harm and $60 million for emotional distress, according to the New York Times. The jury reportedly reached a verdict after just six hours of deliberation.

Hogan sued for $100 million after the outlet posted a portion of his sex tape to its website in 2012.

In a statement after the verdict was announced, Gawker Media founder Nick Denton said that his company had planned for the outcome.

“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,” Denton said. “That’s why we feel very positive about the appeal that we have already begun preparing, as we expect to win this case ultimately.”

Lawyers for Hogan said in a statement that the verdict was an affirmation of “the public’s disgust with the invasion of privacy disguised as journalism.”

The trial, which began earlier this month, saw current and former Gawker executives take the stand while Hogan sat in the courtroom wearing his signature bandana and silver cross. Denton and former editor A.J. Daulerio sought to show that Hogan’s sex tape was newsworthy, and thus the outlet was within its First Amendment rights to publish it.

The $115 million in damages awarded to Hogan were compensatory; according to the Times, punitive damages against Gawker will be established at a later date.

Gawker posted a 2-minute excerpt from a sex tape in 2012 that showed Hogan having sex with then-wife of his friend, Todd Alan Clem, better known as Tampa-area radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge. The video was quickly viewed at least seven million times. During the trial, Hogan reportedly testified that he asked the outlet to take down the video shortly after its publication but that it had refused to do so.

In April 2013, Gawker’s John Cook wrote a post titled, “A Judge Told Us to Take Down Our Hulk Hogan Sex Tape Post. We Won’t,” after Pinellas County Circuit Court Judge Pamela Campbell ordered the site to remove the video.

“We publish all manner of stories here. Some are serious, some are frivolous, some are dumb,” Cook wrote. “I am not going to make a case that the future of the Republic rises or falls on the ability of the general public to watch a video of Hulk Hogan f—king his friend’s ex-wife. But the Constitution does unambiguously accord us the right to publish true things about public figures.”

During closing arguments, Hogan’s attorney, Ken Turkel, described Gawker staff as a “bunch of kids” and “rule-breakers” and accused Denton of being “so proud of being the guy who ruins lives.”

“He wasn’t even called before this post was put up,” Turkel said of Hogan, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “The idea that in 2012 this video was sent to Gawker and they didn’t have the common decency to make one call gives you all you need to know about whether they are protected by the First Amendment.”


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