On March 18, a Florida jury sent a message that the American public will not tolerate invasions of privacy. The jury awarded Hulk Hogan (real name: Terry Bollea) $115 million in compensatory damages after the gossip website Gawker published a sex tape of the famous wrestler and Heather Clem, the ex-wife of shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. On March 21, the jury tacked on an additional $25 million in punitive damages: $15 million against Gawker Media, $10 million for Gawker’s owner Nick Denton, and $100,000 against A.J. Daulerio, the Web content editor who posted the sex tape and drafted the accompanying post.
Gawker is expected to appeal the $140.1 million award and ask the judge to reduce the award. The jury award is almost three times Gawker’s 2015 revenue. However, Hogan’s lawyers pushed back against the notion that Gawker would be unable to pay the hefty verdict by noting that Gawker’s parent company is worth about $276 million and Gawker owner Nick Denton is estimated to be personally worth $121 million.
The case began in October 2012 when Hogan filed a lawsuit alleging five counts: (1) invasion of privacy by intrusion upon seclusion, (2) publication of private facts, (3) violation of the Florida common law right of publicity, (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress, and (5) negligent infliction of emotional distress. In finding for Hogan, the jury rejected Gawker’s argument that the pro wrestler made his sex life a matter of public interest.
The Hogan verdict comes on the heels of former ESPN reporter Erin Andrews’ $55 million invasion of privacy verdict on March 7. Andrews sued a hotel operator after it granted a man’s request to have a room next to Andrews. This man then secretly recorded a nude video of Andrews and publicly distributed it on the Internet.
In his closing argument, Hogan’s lawyer asked the jury, “Do you think the media can do whatever they want?” As it turns out, the answer is a resounding no.