Will Hulk Hogan’s sex tape award kill Gawker? – USA TODAY

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NEW YORK– Last week’s jury verdict awarding Hulk Hogan $115 million had onlookers quickly predicting the death of Gawker Media, a collection of gossip and news web sites that was found to have invaded the privacy of the 80’s wrestling star by posting snippets of him in a sex tape online.

Unfortunately for Gawker, its legals bills could get even bigger if the jury decides to tack on punitive damages, which could happen as soon as Monday.

Still, predictions of Gawker’s demise are premature — even with evidence suggesting that Gawker does not have the cash to pay a $115-million award, plus punitive damages, to Hogan, whose real name is Terry Gene Bollea.

Unlike the $115 million award for Hogan’s personal suffering, punitive damages will be added if the Clearwater, Fla., jury decides Gawker and its founder should be punished for malicious and reckless behavior. Such damages can often prove more devastating than compensatory damages. Consider, for example, the famous McDonald’s case from the 1990s in which a jury awarded a woman scalded by the chain’s coffee $160,000 to cover medical expenses — and $2.7 million in punitive damages.

But Gawker, which owns Gawker.com as well as Gizmodo.com and Jezebel.com, has several options at its disposal to reduce or even eliminate the money it might have to pay to Bollea.

For starters, the company is expected to ask the judge to reduce the award, a process known as remittitur that allows judges to reduce a verdict if it is determined excessive. They are also expected to appeal the case and seek to have the guilty verdict, and the damages that go with it, overturned.

“They will look at the size of that award, which is quite honestly a whopper, and what they are going to say is, ‘Your honor, there is no way he (Bollea) can prove these are the actual damages,'” said Lucy Dalglish, a lawyer who has tried media cases and who is now dean of the journalism school at the University of Maryland.

“Prior to the jury’s verdict we said this case would need to be decided by the appeals court,” Gawker said in an emailed statement.

First Amendment lawyers like Charles Tobin of Holland & Knight say Gawker has strong case in appeal given that the Florida appeals court has already sided with Gawker on some issues, including reversing a 2014 order by the lower court judge, Pamela Campbell, to remove the post ahead of trial.

Failure to convince Campbell to lower the award followed by a loss in appeal could prove devastating, however. The privately held company has released financial data showing that Gawker Media earned $6.53 million in operating income in 2014 on revenue of $44.3 million.

Nick Denton, Gawker’s founder, is worth $3.6 million, not including his interests in the media company, Gawker’s attorney Michael Berry told the jury Monday. “$115 million is punishment enough,” Berry told the jury Monday. “The verdict already rendered will be financial devastating” to the company, he said.

Of course Hogan might argue Gawker and Denton deserve to be financially devastated for publishing snippets of a tape of him having sex with his former best friend’s wife. Hogan has said the tape, made public in 2012, was not authorized and that its publication by Gawker turned his world “upside down.”

Publishing a sex tape between private people “is not fair game,” Hogan’s lawyer told the jury Monday in arguing for punitive damages. “A punitive award will give you the right to draw the line, to send that message,” he said.

After hearing arguments for and against punitive damages, the St. Petersburg, Fla., jury started deliberations around 2 pm EST on Monday.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Kaja Whitehouse on Twitter @kajawhitehouse

Will Hulk Hogan’s sex tape award kill Gawker? – USA TODAY

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