By Blake Neff
Pro wrestler Hulk Hogan has won a massive victory in his sex tape lawsuit against Gawker media, as a jury returned a $115 million verdict in his favor Friday evening.
The award was announced after a six-member jury deliberated for about six hours, according to CNN. The verdict consists of $55 million in economic damages as well as $60 million in emotional damages for Hogan. The jury will meet again next week to consider levying additional punitive damages on Gawker.
Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, had sued Gawker after it published a tape of him having sex with a friend’s wife. Hogan claimed the publication of the video, which was filmed without his knowledge, was an egregious invasion of his privacy and did tremendous damage to his reputation. Hogan’s attorneys also attacked Gawker for publishing the video without attempting to contact either Hogan or the woman in the interview.
Gawker countered by claiming it should be protected by the First Amendment freedom of the press, but in the end the jury didn’t buy it.
The two-week trial included many bizarre moments, such as Hogan explaining under oath that his “in-character” wrestling persona had a larger penis than the real-life Terry Bollea, and former Gawker editor Albert Daulerio saying in a deposition that he’d be willing to publish a sex tape of any celebrity older than the age of 4.
Gawker founder Nick Denton immediately said the company will appeal the verdict, and argued the trial had been mishandled throughout.
“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,” Denton said in a statement to The Wrap.
The $115 million judgment, if sustained on appeal, is more than a humiliation for Gawker Media. The judgment is more than double the size of Gawker’s $45 million in revenue in 2014. Paying off that debt could entirely deplete the company’s coffers, endanger the jobs of its roughly 250 employees, and force founder Nick Denton to sell off an entity that has previously been known for its independence from venture capitalists and other corporate entities. In a staff meeting in June 2015, Denton frankly told the company’s employees that he probably couldn’t sustain the company through a massive legal judgment.
“I have way, way less money than people think!” Denton said at the time. “I don’t have hundreds of millions of dollars to kind of bail the company out. If we are in an environment with higher business risk and higher legal risk, then the company is going to need somebody with deeper pockets and hopefully principles in order to keep it both commercially viable and editorially viable.”
Denton already sold his first outside stake, to a Russian oligarch, in January in an effort to bulk up the company’s financial war chest for the Hogan lawsuit.
Notably, Denton was also found personally liable for damages against Hogan, so if he can’t use the company’s resources to compensate Hogan he’ll have to do so with his personal assets, even those not tied to Gawker. That personal financial pressure likely increases the chances Denton will have to sell a controlling stake in the company if the judgment is sustained.
Gawker Media’s overall value has previously been estimated at about $250 million, though some valuations have placed it higher at $300 to $400 million.
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