Jury Tacks On $25 Million to Gawker’s Bill in Hulk Hogan Case

NIck Madigan
Jury adds $25M in Hulk Hogan privacy case

A Florida jury assessed Gawker Media millions more in punitive damages on Monday for having invaded the privacy of the retired wrestler Hulk Hogan, adding to the $115 million it awarded in compensatory damages last week.

After a two-week trial in a St. Petersburg, Fla., courtroom, jurors ordered Gawker, an online news organization, and its two co-defendants to pay the 62-year-old former wrestler — addressed in court as Terry G. Bollea, his given name — more than $25 million in punitive damages.

Gawker Media was ordered to pay $15 million; the company's founder, Nick Denton, was assessed $10 million; and's former editor in chief, Albert J. Daulerio, must come up with $100,000.

In court, Mr. Bollea did not visibly react to the latest award, in contrast to Friday, when he burst into tears. In a statement after Monday's decision, Mr. Bollea's lawyers said the former wrestler felt vindicated, expressing the hope that the ruling would "deter others from victimizing innocent people."

Gawker said it would appeal. Huge damage awards in cases like these are often overturned or significantly reduced.

On Friday, the news site was found liable for harming Mr. Bollea and subjecting him to embarrassment and humiliation by posting a video of him in a behind-closed-doors sexual encounter that millions of people watched. often trafficked in salacious fare before recently turning much of its attention to politics and other, milder topics.

Heather Dietrick, president and general counsel of Gawker Media, said in a statement that soon after Mr. Bollea sued the company in 2012, three state appeals court judges and a federal judge "repeatedly ruled that Gawker's post was newsworthy" under the First Amendment. "We expect that to happen again," she said.

In the statement, Ms. Dietrick added that the jury had been denied access to "critical evidence," and was prohibited from hearing from Mr. Bollea's onetime friend, whose wife was seen in the video having sex with the former wrestler.

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The friend, a Tampa shock-radio host known as Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, told his radio listeners and then the F.B.I. that Mr. Bollea knew he was being videotaped at the time, according to Ms. Dietrick. Mr. Clem later retracted those assertions.

Of the $115 million in compensatory damages the jury awarded Mr. Bollea last week, $55 million was for economic harm and $60 million for emotional distress, amounts that surprised legal and media analysts following the closely watched trial.

Earlier on Monday, before the jury — four women and two men — retired to deliberate, a lawyer for Gawker pleaded with the jury not to add punitive damages to the tally of its woes.

"A hundred and fifteen million is punishment enough," said the lawyer, Michael Berry, referring to the compensatory damages. "Another large award is not necessary."

Mr. Berry, speaking softly and with what appeared to be contrition, said, "Your verdict will send a chill down the spine of writers, producers and publishers throughout the country."

The six-person panel had the option of imposing no punitive damages. Pinellas County Circuit Judge Pamela A.M. Campbell told the jury that if it decided such damages were appropriate, they should not amount to a sum that would "destroy or bankrupt the defendants."

She instructed the jury to consider whether Gawker had a "specific intent to harm Terry Bollea" and whether such harm was the result of malice.

The England-born, Oxford-educated Mr. Denton is well off, with most of his $121 million net worth held as stock in Gawker's parent company, the Gawker Media Group, which runs multiple websites. The company is worth $276 million, the judge said, with revenue last year of $49 million.

Mr. Denton's personal wealth includes $3.6 million in equity in a New York City condominium.

In contrast, Mr. Daulerio has no viable material assets, the jury was told, and owes $27,000 in student loans.

"The verdict already rendered will be financially devastating for Mr. Denton," his lawyer, Mr. Berry, said, and will mean "financial ruin for Mr. Daulerio."

But a lawyer for Mr. Bollea, Kenneth G. Turkel, appeared to concede that his client would not be receiving much, if anything, from the former editor.

"I'm not going to argue that A.J. Daulerio has some huge net worth, because he just doesn't," Mr. Turkel said.

Even though Gawker has said it would appeal the verdict, Florida law says that anyone appealing monetary damages must post a bond for the full amount, although the bond cannot be more than $50 million.

Gawker maintained at trial that the video of Mr. Bollea was newsworthy, and that the plaintiff had repeatedly invited public attention to his sex life, even after the video's existence became known, and that therefore he could not claim that his privacy had been compromised.

Mr. Bollea has maintained that he was unaware the encounter was being recorded. His lawyers said that they had asked Gawker several times to remove the video, long before they filed a lawsuit, and that they had been ignored.