Posted on 4/4/2016 1:15:38 AM By Alexis Payne

Professional wrestler Hulk Hogan (real name Terry Bollea) was recently awarded $140.1 million in a lawsuit against for its online publication of a one-minute and 41-second excerpt of him having sex. And if you thought the facts couldn’t get tawdrier -- wait for it… the other “participant” in the video was Heather Cole, the wife of Hogan’s former best friend, radio shock jock Bubba “the Love Sponge” Clem. The source of the video is unknown.

In his complaint, Hogan alleges he engaged in private sexual acts that were secretly filmed without his knowledge or consent and that Gawker publicly released the video online. Hogan asserted claims of Intrusion Upon Seclusion and Publication of Private Facts, as well as Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress and Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress. Under Florida’s “impact rule,” Hogan was required to show that he suffered a physical impact or injury that resulted in emotional harm.

During trial, Hogan alleged Gawker acted with reckless disregard for his privacy by posting the video online. Hogan also argued that case evidence showed Gawker’s editors made jokes about the video in private, which arguably evidenced Gawker’s disregard for his privacy.

Gawker defended its posting of the video as protected by the First Amendment because it was a matter of public concern regarding a public figure. Gawker also argued that other publications had reported on the video. Gawker further contended Hogan previously discussed his sex life publicly, including in a book he published. Gawker argued such evidence proved the video was of general interest and concern to the public and was therefore protected.

In response, Hogan sought to distinguish his real life persona, Terry Bollea, from his famous the “Hulk” wrestling persona. He argued that it was Bollea and not the “Hulk” depicted in the video. Therefore, he argued it was Bollea, not a public figure, who was the victim and that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy Gawker violated.

Hogan demanded $100 million in damages, but the jurors awarded him more. The jury awarded Hogan $60 million for emotional distress and $55 million for economic harm. The court later increased the jury’s award to a whopping $140.1 million, adding $25.1 million for punitive damages.

Bottom Line: Body Slam or Re-Match?

Whether Hogan will ultimately receive the $140.1 million award remains to be seen. Jury verdicts are subject to post-trial motions and appeals, including requests for a remittitur to reduce awards based on the argument that the evidence does not support the awarded damages. And it is possible Hogan may settle with Gawker for a lesser amount to avoid further court action.

This case also has more far-reaching implications. There is concern that the decision will have a chilling effect on media publishers, especially those who cannot afford to litigate or face potentially astronomical damages awards for publishing what they believe to be protected news and free speech under the First Amendment.

We will continue to monitor the case.

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