University of Southern California

Sex, Videos, and Insurance: How Gawker Could Have Avoided Financial Responsibility for the $140 Million Hulk Hogan Sex Tape Verdict

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Postscript (Comment) by Christopher C. French
November, 2016

90 S. Cal. L. Rev. Postscript 1

On March 18, 2016, and March 22, 2016, a jury awarded Terry Bollea (a.k.a Hulk Hogan) a total of $140 million in compensatory and punitive damages against Gawker Media for posting less than two minutes of a video of Hulk Hogan having sex with his best friend’s wife. The award was based upon a finding that Gawker intentionally had invaded Hulk Hogan’s privacy by posting the video online.

The case has been receiving extensive media coverage because it is a tawdry tale involving a celebrity, betrayal, adultery, sex, and the First Amendment. The story would be better if all of the characters in the story were not, at best, anti-heroes. Hulk Hogan had sex with his best friend’s wife. Hulk Hogan’s sex partner committed adultery. Hulk Hogan’s best friend, the cuckold, allegedly was the person who videotaped the encounter and then leaked it to Gawker. And, after sleeping with his best friend’s wife, Hulk Hogan had the audacity to sue the cuckold for allegedly leaking the sex tape to Gawker, with the cuckold settling that claim by paying Hulk Hogan $5000. The cuckold then asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid testifying in the case against Gawker. On the other side of the story, Gawker, the entity that posted the sex tape online, is a “media gossip” website host and does not look very good attempting to wear the cloak of the First Amendment by claiming that the contents of the Hulk Hogan sex video, as opposed to the simple fact that the tape existed, was newsworthy. Nor did it help Gawker’s image when Gawker’s editor testified that he would only draw the line against posting sex videos if the video included a child under four years old. It is hard to root for any of the parties in the case.

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