Hulk Hogan’s toughest bout didn’t take place in the ring. It was a high-stakes legal fight that began in 2012 when the former wrestling champ filed an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against Gawker Media for posting a video of him having sex with a friend’s wife. In March 2016 a Florida jury awarded Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, $55 million for economic injuries, $60 million for emotional distress and $25 million in punitive damages.
The verdict was a huge victory for mediabesieged celebrities, as public figures are afforded a lower standard of privacy protection than those not in the limelight. But it was a depressing defeat for First Amendment supporters concerned about the intimidating impact of expensive litigation on press freedom.
Even if Gawker ultimately prevails in reversing or drastically reducing the judgment, the immense legal costs could end up bankrupting the online company. It is not clear how much Hogan would receive if Gawker bites the dust or is sold.
When all is said and done, a financially rewarding outcome may not be in the offing for Hogan or Gawker. But that’s not the reason most celebrities are hesitant to challenge the media with an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit. They risk opening themselves up to even greater scrutiny.