TAMPA, Fla., March 18, 2016 — A Florida jury awarded former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan $115 million in his sex-tape lawsuit against Gawker media. The former wrestler, whose real name is Terry Bollea, had sued Gawker, founder Nick Denton and former editor A.J. Daulerio for posting a nearly two-minute segment of a Hogan sex tape in 2012. Hogan’s suit claimed Gawker violated his privacy and sought $100 million.
Gawker’s legal team, which had argued that posting the video was protected by the First Amendment, appeared to have anticipated a costly verdict. Lawyers for the New York news site issued a statement shortly after the jury retired to begin deliberations. The statement mentioned the jury’s inability to consider a trove of recently unsealed documents related to the case. “It may be necessary for the appeals court to resolve this case,” the statement said.
The jury will return to court on Monday to award punitive damages. After only six hours of deliberations, Denton said he will appeal, based on evidence that was not introduced to the jury.
“Given the key evidence and the most important witness in this case were withheld from the jury, we all knew the appeals court would need to resolve this case,” Denton said. Gawker’s editors contended the video and an accompanying post were a newsworthy commentary on the ordinariness of celebrity sex videos. They told the jury that the video is “not like a real celebrity sex tape” and urged them to watch the video, which contains nine seconds of sexual content.
Denton also pointed out to the jury that the news of the “celebrity sex tape” appeared on multiple websites before Gawker shared it. Gawker attorney Michael Sullivan restated the free speech argument that was the cornerstone of the defense’s case. The First Amendment, he told jurors, protects unpopular speech.
“What the plaintiff asks you to do is easy: to feel sympathy for Mr. Bollea, to muster your dislike and disdain for Gawker,” Sullivan said. “What we ask you to do is harder, very hard, but ultimately it is right.”
Gawker planned to pay possible legal fees by selling its stake in Columbus Nova Technology Partners this year.