T. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — A jury has sided with ex-pro wrestler Hulk Hogan and awarded him $115 million in his sex tape lawsuit against Gawker Media.
It took close to six hours for jurors to decide the media company violated Hogan’s privacy by publishing a now-infamous 1-minute, 41-second clip of the wrestling legend having sex with the wife of his former best pal, Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.
Hogan, whose given name is Terry Bollea, sued Gawker for $100 million for posting a video in 2012 of him having sex with his former best friend’s wife. Hogan contended it was a violation of his privacy.
Gawker’s editors contended the video and an accompanying post was a newsworthy commentary on the ordinariness of celebrity sex videos.
Now that Hogan, who sued the company, its founder Nick Denton and ex-editor A.J. Daulerio for $100 million, has been awarded compensatory damages, the trial will move on to the punitive phase, during which he stands to win more money.
As the six jurors began their deliberations Friday afternoon, Gawker Media released a preemptive statement already indicating its plans to appeal because Hogan’s buddy, Clem, never gave testimony.
The company claims Clem told his radio listeners that Hogan knew he was being taped during his romp with Cole — and jurors listened to a “questionable version of events.”
“We’re disappointed the jury was unable to see key evidence and hear testimony from the most important witness,” the statement reads.
“So it may be necessary for the appeals court to resolve this case.
While waiting for the jury to decide his fate, Hogan tweeted, “Praying,” to his more than 1.42 million followers.
During closing arguments in the 10-day trial, Hogan’s lawyers insisted that Gawker was behaving recklessly when it published a portion of the leaked sex tape without bothering to ask the wrestler for comment.
“What’s significant in the world of Gawker is a tape of my client in a private bedroom with a friend at the lowest point in his life,” Kenneth Turkel told jurors.
He accused Gawker founder Nick Denton, a defendant in the lawsuit, of “playing God with other people’s lives” as he sat comfortably behind his computer screen.
“That’s the whole premise of how they do things: We’re going to break the rules. We’re not going to commit journalism,” he said.
Referring to internal staffer messages, Turkel said Daulerio and his colleagues spent at least a couple of days callously joking about the sex tape.
“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,” he said.
Impressing upon jurors that Hogan is just a “regular family guy” who grew up in a working class Tampa neighborhood, he said the former face of WWE is self conscious and wears a bandanna because he’s embarrassed by his big head.
“And behind closed doors he’s just a guy who’s sad he hasn’t had a home-cooked lunch,” he said, referring to Cole’s testimony from earlier this week.
Turkel argued that Gawker saw an impressive spike in unique page views after posting the video — and its monetary value, not newsworthiness, was the site’s ultimate concern.
“This case defines reckless disregard,” he said. “Every witness was asked, ‘If you knew it would cause him severe emotional distress, would you have done it anyway?’ And every witness said, ‘yes.’”
Turkel told jurors Hogan should get $50 million in damages, a number they arrived at by multiplying the 7 million hits the video got on other websites by $4.95 — the amount people would’ve paid for the sex tape.
He then added on the estimated $15 million that Gawker made off the video.
During Gawker’s closings, lawyer Michael Sullivan asserted that the posting was “lawful and legal” and insisted Hogan was not as emotionally distressed by the video as he has claimed.
“This is a man who has used publicity and is used to public attention,” he said.
“Also a man who is quite comfortable discussing the intimate details of… his sex life in public. We know he is not upset by that kind of exposure because he voluntarily exposes himself to the world.”
He also suggested that Hogan was aware that his romp with Cole was being filmed.
“Was it a publicity stunt?” he asked. “Only two people know for certain, Bubba the Love Sponge and [Hogan]. But you will not hear from Bubba.”
During a rebuttal, Turkel countered that sex tape was “just pornography.”
“The first amendment may protect the right for pornographers to put pornography out there, but not when you balance it against the right to privacy,” he said.