Hulk Hogan, Gawker and a big award for breach of privacy

March 19, 2016 |

Hulk Hogan has won his privacy suit against Gawker for publishing a video tape of him having sex with a friend’s wife.  It has been reported by the ABC in Hulk Hogan awarded $150 million by Florida jury over Gawker sex tape and BBC in  Hulk Hogan awarded $115m in Gawker sex tape case.  This follows on the back of a reporter, Erin Andrews winning $55 million in a privacy law suit in Nashville for talking a video of her naked in her hotel room through a peep hole, as reported in Erin Andrews Wins $55M In Hotel Peephole Lawsuit; Jury Blames Hotel & Stalker.   

It is inconceivable that Australian Courts will award such large awards for a privacy related actions.  It is highly likely that these awards will be reduced considerably on appeal.

The ABC article provides:

A Florida jury has awarded celebrity wrestler Hulk Hogan $150 million after finding the news website Gawker violated his privacy by publishing a sex tape.

After deliberating six hours, the jury awarded Hogan — whose legal name is Terry Bollea — $US60 million ($78 million) for emotional distress and $US55 million ($72 million) for economic damages.

They remain sequestered until Monday when the jury will consider punitive damages and other matters.

“This is a victory for everyone who has had their privacy violated,” Hogan’s attorney, David Houston, said.

Hogan cried and hugged Mr Houston as the award was announced.

Gawker publisher Nick Denton said the website would appeal the verdict.

A Gawker attorney previously said a loss could put it out of business.

“We all knew the appeals court will need to resolve the case,” Mr Denton said in a statement.

“We feel very positive about the appeal that we have already begun preparing, as we expect to win this case ultimately.”

Hogan had sought $US100 million ($130 million) in damages over the edited video that Gawker, a New York-based outlet known for gossip and media reporting, posted online in 2012.

Test for rights of celebrities in the digital age

The jury of two men and four women agreed with Hogan that his privacy had been violated, that the violation had caused him harm and that Hogan had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The case drew attention as a digital-age test of a celebrity’s privacy rights and freedom of the press under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Gawker’s one-minute, 41-second video depicted Hogan, 62, engaged in sex with the wife of his then-best friend, radio “shock jock” personality Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.

Hogan, a longtime star of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), said he did not know the consensual encounter had been recorded when it occurred nearly a decade ago in Bubba’s home.

Gawker’s video included excerpts from a 30-minute sex tape the company obtained without knowing its origin.

Hogan testified that he still suffers from the humiliation of a video that went viral.

The video was viewed 2.5 million times on the Gawker site.

The moustachioed wrestling icon wore a signature black bandana during a two-week trial in St Petersburg, Florida, near his home.

Testimony touched on media ethics, website analytics and Hogan’s statements about his sex life, including descriptions of his genitalia.

Gawker said the posting was in keeping with the outlet’s mission to cover true and interesting subjects, stressing Hogan had made his sex life a public matter.

Denton and the editor responsible for the post, AJ Daulerio, were called as defence witnesses.

Both named in the lawsuit, they stood by the post, which Denton said “stands up to the test of time”.

It provides:

A Florida jury has awarded Hulk Hogan $115m (£79m) after the gossip news website Gawker published a sex tape of the retired professional wrestler.

Mr Hogan’s legal team argued the New York-based website violated his privacy and the video was not newsworthy.

The case, which pitted freedom of the press against a celebrity’s right to privacy, has been closely watched.

The video was posted in 2012 after Mr Hogan was secretly recorded having sex with his friend’s wife.

Lawyers for Gawker argued that although jurors might find the website’s actions distasteful, the concept of freedom of the press was more important to uphold.

Mr Hogan’s lawyers said Gawker did not contact him or the woman in the video before the video was published.

“This is not only his victory today, but also anyone else who’s been victimised by tabloid journalism,” Hogan lawyer David Houston said outside the courtroom.

Gawker, known for its acerbic tone and aggressive coverage of celebrities, maintained that Mr Hogan’s private life was newsworthy because he made it part of his public persona.

“He has consistently chosen to put his private life out there, for public consumption,” Gawker’s lawyer Michael Sullivan said during the trial.

However, Hogan lawyer Kenneth Turkel said during the trial that Gawker typified the often anything-goes world of internet publishing.

The verdict could lead to more caution among Internet news websites, which frequently have less editorial oversight than traditional media outlets.

Gawker’s founder Nick Denton and journalist AJ Daulerio were held liable in the lawsuit.

Even before the verdict was announced, Gawker said in a statement that an appeal was likely. Large jury awards are often reduced during the appeals process.

Mr Hogan, whose given name is Terry Bollea, said the release of the sex tape hurt his career.

He was one of the most popular professional wrestlers of the 1980s and 1990s and later starred in his own reality television show with his family.

In recent years, Mr Hogan’s personal problems have conflicted with his one-time child-friendly persona.

His longtime employer World Wrestling Entertainment cut ties with Mr Hogan in July after he was recorded using racial slurs.

One Response to “Hulk Hogan, Gawker and a big award for breach of privacy”

  1. Hulk Hogan, Gawker and a big award for breach of privacy | Australian Law Blogs

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