A US jury has awarded wrestling star Hulk Hogan US$115 million (NZ$169m) after finding the Gawker website violated his privacy by publishing a sex tape of the celebrity wrestler.
Hogan – whose real name is Terry Bollea – sought US$100 million in damages over the edited video that Gawker posted online in 2012. The case, being heard in Florida, weighed a celebrity’s right to privacy in the Internet age against freedom of the press as protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
After deliberating six hours, the jury awarded Hogan US$60 million for emotional distress and US$55 million for economic damages. They remain sequestered until Monday (local time) 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. As the award was announced, Hogan cried and hugged Houston. Gawker publisher Nick Denton said the website would appeal the verdict.
Hogan had sought damages over the edited video that Gawker, a New York-based outlet known for gossip and media reporting, posted online in 2012.
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, said he did not know the consentual 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 bandanna 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.”
Hogan attained pro wrestling stardom in the 1980s and 1990s, winning multiple championships.
He also became a celebrity outside his “Hulkamania” fan base, appearing in movies and television shows, including a reality show about his life on VH1, Hogan Knows Best.