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A Florida jury has awarded Hulk Hogan just over $25 million in punitive damages in his sex tape lawsuit against Gawker Media. That’s $15 million from Gawker, $10 million from Gawker owner Nick Denton and $100,000 from former Gawker editor-inchief A.J. Daulerio.
The decision brings the total verdict to $140.1 million, counting the $115 million in compensatory damages that came after the end of a two-week trial from which Hogan emerged victorious on his claims of privacy intrusion, publicity rights violation and infliction of emotional distress.
The huge award is meant to punish Gawker for its October 2012 posting of a sex tape video featuring Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea. Gawker argued that the use of the video in its story was newsworthy and should be protected by the First Amendment, but the defendant couldn’t overcome Hogan’s argument that privacy outweighed free speech in this case.
The jury was instructed that they should award punitive damages to deter defendants and others similarly situated and shouldn’t award an amount that would financially destroy Gawker nor make it unreasonably large in relation to compensatory damages. The parties stipulated that Gawker’s pre-judgment value was $83 million, that the news company’s revenue last year was $48.7 million, and that Denton’s assets from his ownership in various companies was worth $276 million. As for Daulerio, both sides acknowledged that he was still in debt from student loans.
“You send a message,” said Hogan attorney Ken Turkel to the jury before the punitive damages award was announced. “You make a statement. You draw a line when it comes to a recording in a private bedroom.”
“$115 million is punishment enough,” said Gawker attorney Mike Berry. “The amount you have rendered in your verdict is already far beyond their means … that amount is debilitating … my clients have heard your decision.”
Berry added that the decision would “send a chill” through news reporters everywhere and would have “far-reaching ramifications.”
Florida judge Pamela Campbell will likely be asked to trim the awards. Regardless of what she decides, Gawker has indicated that it intends to appeal the verdict.
After the announcement of punitive damages, Gawker general counsel Heather Dietrick said, “There is so much this jury deserved to know and, fortunately, that the appeals court does indeed know. So we are confident we will win this case ultimately based on not only on the law but also on the truth.”
Hogan’s legal team hopes the verdict sends a message.
“We are extremely happy with the verdict and Mr. Bollea feels vindicated,” they said in a statement. “Our victory will also deter others from victimizing innocent people. This verdict now requires those organizations to respect privacy and if not pay the price for failing to do so.”
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