A Florida jury decided on Friday evening that Gawker Media must pay Hulk Hogan (Terry Bollea) $115 million in damages after running a sex tape of the famous wrestler on its site.
The case centres on a 2012 post by former Gawker editor A.J. Daulerio, in which he posted an edited section of a sex tape filmed without Bollea’s consent. Bollea was allegedly filmed having sex with Heather Clem, the ex-wife of his friend and radio host Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, in Clem’s home with a hidden camera.
Gawker plans to appeal the decision, but legal experts who spoke with Business Insider weren’t surprised by the initial ruling.
“The dice were loaded in Hogan’s favour,” Marc J. Randazza, a First Amendment expert told Business Insider by phone.
According to Randazza, that’s because the case took place in a Tampa, Florida courtroom, where Hogan lives.
“Tampa juries are an unpredictable lot,” says Randazza.
“The fact that the jury [sided] against Gawker is not a big surprise,” Leslie Carolyn Kendrick, a First Amendment expert at the University of Virginia told Business Insider in an email. “The jury doesn’t speak until it speaks, but Gawker should have been prepared for this possibility from the moment it was clear they were going to trial.”
Gawker’s attorneys are likely to appeal the verdict in the coming weeks.
Gawker’s founder, Nick Denton, reflected this in a prepared statement:
“Given key evidence and the most important witness were both improperly withheld from this jury, we all knew the appeals court will need to resolve the case. I want to thank our lawyers for their outstanding work and am confident that we would have prevailed at trial if we had been allowed to present the full case to the jury. That’s why we feel very positive about the appeal that we have already begun preparing, as we expect to win this case ultimately.”
On Monday, the jury will also decide on punitive damages. Randazza predicts that the punitive damages could be up to “three times,” as much as the emotional damages.
“If I had to give Vegas odds,” Randazza clarified, “I’d put the over/under at $175 million.”
What is most surprising, according to both experts, is how large the verdict was.
“It’s even larger than the large amount Hulk Hogan asked for,” says Kendrick. “Emotional damages are notoriously hard to calculate, and economic damages in a case like this are too… The jury came back with $60 million in emotional damages and $55 million in economic.”
Randazza called the verdict, “excessive,” and expects that it will, “likely be significantly rolled back on appeal.”
“The verdict has an element of the jury wanting to punish Gawker,” added Randazza.
“All in all this verdict could hit Gawker hard,” says Kendrick. But she cautions that, “We won’t know how important this case is until the appeal is resolved.”
Gawker is the high-brow gossip sheet covering media, entertainment, politics and technology.
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