Gawker could still win Hulk Hogan case despite $115 million verdict: legal experts

Sat Mar 19, 2016 6:29pm EDT
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By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The $115 million a Florida jury awarded to Hulk Hogan on Friday may seem like a big blow to the website Gawker, but the media company could ultimately prevail in its court battle with the flamboyant wrestler, legal experts say.

Hogan had sued the website for posting a video clip in 2012 featuring him having sex with the wife of his then-best friend, the radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.

Both sides cast the case as a crucial test of the balance between the right to privacy and freedom of the press in the digital age, when a celebrity sex tape can reach millions of viewers with one click of a button.

"The jury's decision is somewhat of a black box," said Mary-Rose Papandrea, a University of North Carolina law professor who previously represented the National Enquirer, a tabloid known for its aggressive reporting on celebrity scandals. "It will be much more interesting and much more important as a legal issue to see what the appellate court says."

Hogan had argued that Gawker ignored basic journalistic ethics by failing to contact him before publishing and violated his privacy by including several seconds of explicit sexual activity as part of the video excerpt it posted.

"What's disturbing about Gawker isn't what they do in a vacuum," said Kenneth Turkel, one of Hogan's lawyers, during his closing argument. "It's how proud they are of it."

Gawker countered that Hogan's own penchant for publicly describing his sex life in detail had made the sex tape fair game.

"He has consistently chosen to put his own private life out there, over and over," Michael Sullivan, Gawker's lawyer, told jurors on Friday.   Continued...

Terry Bollea, aka Hulk Hogan, sits in court during his trial against Gawker Media, in St Petersburg, Florida March 17, 2016.  REUTERS/Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times/Pool via Reuters