2ND UPDATE, 10:30 AM: Florida Circuit Judge Pamela Campbell today upheld ex-pro wrestler Hulk Hogan’s $140M verdict against Gawker in his lawsuit for publishing his sex tape. There will be no new trial.
UPDATED, March 21: Terry Bollea (aka Hulk Hogan) has just been awarded another $25M in punitive damages in his invasion of privacy lawsuit against Gawker Media, after receiving a whopping $115M on Friday from a Florida jury. On Friday, they gave Bollea $55M in compensatory damages and another $60M for emotional damages. Prior to jury deliberations Monday, Gawker attorney Michael Berry told the jurors that $115M was “punishment enough.” Still, the ruling came back and awarded Bollea another $25M. According to the court, Gawker was told to pay $15M, owner Nick Denton was ordered to pay $10M, and former editor Albert J. Daulerio has been ordered to pay $100K.
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Berry told jurors today that the $115M amount “could be debilitating for Gawker Media.” The company released financials to the court earlier that showed Gawker Media was worth $83M, and that Denton was worth anywhere between $117M-$121M because of his interest in the company, but personally is worth an estimated $3.6M. Gawker’s financials also showed, among other things, that it earned $6.5M in operating income in 2014 on revenues of $44.3M.
The total damages awarded Bollea is now $140M. Gawker, Denton and Daulerio are expected to appeal.
PREVIOUS, FRIDAY PM: Hulk Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, has landed a $115M judgment against online site Gawker for invasion of privacy in a case that is likely to have repercussions of how celebrity news is covered in the future. At issue was a one minute and 41 second video which Gawker posted that showed the famed wrestler having sex with Heather Clem, the wife of his best friend. Bollea sued Nick Denton’s Gawker Media and the former editor of Gawker.com, Albert J. Daulerio. He could win more in punitive damages. So far, he has won $60 million for emotional stress and $55 million in economic damages.
While Gawker cried First Amendment protection, Bollea’s attorney cried foul and said it was a clear invasion of privacy. Bollea’s attorneys argued that not only did their client not know the tape was being recorded, but when he spoke about his sex life later on a radio show, he did so in character as Hulk Hogan. Bollea, the man, they said, was personally harmed by the publication of the video.
While there is likely to be an appeal, a judgment this high from the Florida jury could be devastating for Gawker, which was started over a decade ago by Denton. When interviewed by The New York Times about the then-pending lawsuit a year ago, Denton said he wasn’t concerned that it would have much impact on his business. However, that is before the jury today granted damages of over $100M.
It probably didn’t help that, when asked in court last week about the news value of celebrity sex videos, former Gawker editor Daulerio said he thought the video was “amusing.” When Bollea’s lawyer played his video deposition in court where he asked if Daulerio could imagine any time that a celebrity sex tape would not be considered newsworthy, the former editor said, “If they were a child.” When pressed about what age, Daulerio said, “Four.”
While clearly he was being sarcastic, it underscored the attitude of the Gawker the head of the website’s anything goes editorial policy. Bollea said on the stand that he was “completely humilated” by the tape. That videotape was made in 2006 but made public by Gawker in 2012.
“Mr. Daulerio sits down at the computer with his friends, joking, laughing, mocking, recklessly consuming this content, and with a click uploads this thing up on the Internet and turns this man’s life upside down,” Bollea’s lawyer told the jury.
In any appeal, Gawker is expected to have to post a bond in the meantime.
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