Hulk Hogan's $140 million trial victory over Gawker over the publication of a sex tape sends a clear message that even as celebrities are watched more intensely than ever before, pop culture icons are entitled to privacy in their most intimate moments.
A Florida jury on Friday awarded Hulk Hogan $115 million with the possibility of more after finding the Gawker website violated his privacy by publishing a sex tape of the celebrity wrestler. After deliberating six hours, the jury awarded Hogan $60 million for emotional distress and $55 million for economic damages. They remain sequestered until Monday when the jury will consider punitive damages and other matters. "This is a victory for everyone who has had their privacy violated," Hogan's attorney, David Houston, said. Gawker publisher Nick Denton (above) said the website would appeal the verdict.
Hogan had sought $100 million in damages over the edited video that Gawker, a New York-based outlet known for gossip and media reporting, posted online in 2012. The jury of two men and four women agreed with Hogan that his privacy had been violated, that the violation had caused him harm and that Hogan had a reasonable expectation of privacy.
The case drew attention as a digital-age test of a celebrity's privacy rights and freedom of the press under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Gawker's one-minute, 41-second video depicted Hogan, 62, engaged in sex with the wife of his then-best friend, radio "shock jock" personality Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. Hogan, a longtime star of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), said he did not know the consensual encounter had been recorded when it occurred nearly a decade ago in Bubba's home. Gawker's video included excerpts from a 30-minute sex tape the company obtained without knowing its origin.
Hogan, whose legal name is Terry Bollea, testified that he still suffers from the humiliation of a video that went viral. The video was viewed 2.5 million times on the Gawker site. The mustachioed wrestling icon wore a signature black bandana during a two-week trial in St. Petersburg, Florida, near his home. Testimony touched on media ethics, website analytics and Hogan's statements about his sex life, including descriptions of his genitalia.
Gawker said the posting was in keeping with the outlet's mission to cover true and interesting subjects, stressing Hogan had made his sex life a public matter. Denton and the editor responsible for the post, A.J. Daulerio, were called as defense witnesses. Both named in the lawsuit, they stood by the post, which Denton said "stands up to the test of time."
(Writing by Letitia Stein and Joseph Ax; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)