ST. PETERSBURG, United States: A US jury on Friday ordered the news and entertainment website Gawker to pay wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan $115 million for posting online a secretly recorded video of him having sex.
The six-member jury reached the decision in favor of Hogan after deliberating for six hours following a two-week civil trial in Florida.
Hogan burst into tears when the verdict was announced.
The 62-year-old, whose real name is Terry Bollea, has argued that the video — which shows him having sex with the wife of a friend and lasts one minutes and 41 seconds — invaded his privacy and humiliated him.
Hogan’s lawyer has said the video was viewed around seven million times.
One of America’s most famous entertainment wrestlers, now retired Hogan was known for wearing a bandana and a handlebar moustache.
During the trial, Hogan — dressed in a dark suit and black bandana — testified that a friend of his, radio personality Bubba “the Love Sponge” Clem, had an “open marriage” and wanted his wife to have sex with Hogan.
After several entreaties, Hogan said he finally agreed, not realizing that the encounter was secretly recorded.
“Mr Bollea is exceptionally happy,” Hogan’s lawyer David Houston said outside the court following the ruling.
“We’re exceptionally happy with the verdict. We think it represents a statement as to the public’s disgust with the invasion of privacy disguised as journalism. The verdict says ‘no more’.”
Appeal in the works
Nick Denton, Gawker Media’s founder and chief executive, watched quietly as the jury’s decision was read aloud to those in the court.
Speaking to reporters outside, he indicated an appeal was in the works.
“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.
“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,” he added.
“That’s why we feel very positive about the appeal that we have already begun preparing, as we expect to win this case ultimately.”
The jury awarded Hogan $15 million more than he had originally sought.
Of the $115 million, $60 million is for personal emotional stress suffered by Hogan.
The jury — consisting of four women and two men — ruled in favor of Hogan on all of the claims.
The trial was closely watched by legal experts and celebrities as defense attorneys argued the publication of the sex tape was protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
A lawyer for Gawker, Michael Berry, insisted during the proceedings that the recording and posting of celebrity photos and video — even salacious ones — comes with the territory when one is a star.
Hogan’s defense team, however, convinced the jury that by posting the video, Gawker publicly disclosed private information, intended to cause him severe emotional distress, acted recklessly, and that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the bedroom where the video was recorded. AFP