Hulk Hogan, real name Terry Bollea, the famed professional wrestler, has won a verdict against the media website Gawker for $115 million in a Florida Court. The case was based on Mr. Bollea’s right to privacy. Gawker had published a sex tape video of Mr. Bollea, which it claimed had constitutional protection. Mr. Bollea was awarded $55 Million in economic damages and $60 Million for emotional distress. There is also the potential for punitive damages. Mr. Bollea was originally only asking for $100 million.
Gawker is the owner of other websites, including Gizmodo, Lifehacker, Deadspin, Kotaku, Jezebel, and JalopnikThe lawyers for Gawker argued that the sex tape was newsworthy and protected under the First Amendment, while the lawyers for Mr. Bollea argued that the sex tape was an invasion of privacy and had no news value. The lawyers for Gawker claimed that since Bollea spoke publicly about his sex life, the tape was fair game. According to Michael Sullivan, a lawyer for Gawker, “He has chosen to seek the spotlight,” and “He has consistently chosen to put his private life out there.” He added that looking into the details of celebrity is what journalist do, regardless of whether the details are less than savory. Editors for Gawkers claimed that it was relevant commentary concerning celebrity sex tapes.
It is likely that Gawker will appeal the decision. Gawker’s founder, Nick Denton, stated “We feel very positive about the appeal that we have already begun preparing, as we expect to win this case ultimately.” Gawker Media stated “We’re disappointed the jury was unable to see key evidence and hear testimony from the most important witness… Hulk Hogan’s best friend Bubba the Love Sponge—who made the tape and offered up his wife in the first place—originally told his radio listeners that Hulk Hogan knew he was being taped. The jury was only able to hear a questionable version of events. Bubba should have been required to appear in court and explain what really happened.” There is a question of whether Gawker can financially survive the award, even if they appeal. If there is an appeal there will be an initial bond of at least $50 million, though the lawyers can argue to have this lowered.
According to Samantha Barbas, a law professor at the University at Buffalo who focuses on these issues, “For a jury to say that a celebrity has a right to privacy that outweighs the public’s ‘right to know,’ and that a celebrity sex tape is not newsworthy, represents a real shift in American free press law.”