Understanding Hulk Hogan’s $140 Million Verdict
In one of the biggest verdicts in Pinellas County History, a jury recently awarded Hulk Hogan, formally known as Terry Bollea, $140 million in damages against Gawker Media and its owner, Nick Denton. This enormous verdict raises a lot of questions — how did the jury reach a number so large? How much will Hulk Hogan actually collect?
In the civil lawsuit, Hulk Hogan alleges that he engaged in private sexual acts with a woman by the name of Heather Clem; that those acts were secretly filmed without his knowledge or consent; and that Gawker Media then obtained a copy of the video and released it the general public via the internet. These actions, he alleges, resulted in severe emotional damage and damage to his reputation and brand. The Complaint goes on to set out causes of action for Intrusion Upon Seclusion and Publication of Private Facts, which are types of invasion of privacy lawsuits. The Complaint also states causes of action for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress and Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress.
During trial, Hulk presented evidence that Gawker knowingly posted a 1:40 “highlight reel” of his encounter with Heather Clem, which resulted in millions of people being able to view what he believed was a purely private encounter. He was able to show how this resulted in “substantial embarassment, humiliation, and hurt feelings”; and that it also injured his “commercial value” as an ex-professional wrestler.
The jury was then first asked to award an amount of money to compensate Hogan for his “non-economic damages” — his emotional pain and suffering. The jury returned a $115 million verdict on this issue. Although pain, suffering, mental anguish, and other forms of non-economic damages are available in most civil lawsuits, they usually must come from a physical injury. That is, the person bringing the lawsuit must show that they suffered a physical impact or injury which then resulted in emotional harm. This is known in Florida as “the impact rule,” There are exceptions to the rule, including lawsuits for invasion of privacy.
The jury was next asked to award an amount of punitive damages. Punitive damages are a type of award that is designed to punish the wrongdoer. They are only available in rare circumstances, such as when a person commits an intentional tort or acts recklessly. When a claim for punitive damages is made, evidence about the wrongdoer’s financial worth is allowed to come into evidence and be presented to the jury. In most cases, this type of evidence is not allowed. In this case, Hogan alleged that Gawker media and its owner intentionally violated his privacy rights, and that violation deserved punishment. The jury agreed, awarding Hogan $25 million in punitive damages: $15 million against Gawker, and $10 million against its owner, Nick Denton.
The total verdict came $140 million, but how much will Hulk Hogan actually get? Jury verdicts are always subject to post-trial motions and appeals. In this case, the Defendants will likely ask for a remittitur — a ruling that the evidence did not support the verdict and that the verdict should be reduced. The Defendants will also likely file an appeal, arguing that the judge committed certain errors which should entitle them to a new trial. In either case, the verdict may be reduced, or Hogan may settle for a lesser amount.
Over the past 60 years, Perenich Caulfield Avril & Noyes has received multiple million dollar verdicts asking for similar types of damages and facing similar types of issues. Whether you are the victim of a car accident, medical malpractice, or some other type of injury, contact our office to receive a free consultation.