Lawyers for Gawker Media filed paperwork for an appeal against Terry Bollea, aka Hulk Hogan, as well as a motion to reverse the $25.1 million in punitive damages awarded to the former wrestler by a St. Petersburg, Fla., jury last month.
Bollea sued the Web site for publishing a clip in 2012 of him having sex with the wife of his then-best friend Todd Clem, known as “Bubba The Love Sponge.” The trial, which took place late last month, ended in a jury awarding Bollea with $115 million in compensatory damages, and $25.1 million in punitive damages. Of the punitive award, $10 million is to come from the pocket of Gawker founder Nick Denton, and $100,000 from then-Gawker editor A.J. Daulerio.
What has followed has been a media tour of sorts for Denton and Bollea, both of whom broadcast their versions of the trial on shows such as “The View,” “CNN Tonight with Don Lemon,” “CNBC’s Squawk Box” and the “Today Show.” For his part, Denton has maintained that Gawker would appeal, suggesting that it was his company’s First Amendment right to publish the leaked tapes, as they were “newsworthy.” Bollea, who claims he did not know he was being filmed, said Gawker violated his right to privacy.
After Gawker filed its motions, a representative from the company said:
“Gawker is now beginning the process of challenging the jury’s verdict in a trial where key evidence was wrongly withheld and the jury was not properly instructed on the Constitutional standards for newsworthiness. So we expect to be fully vindicated. And even if the verdict were to stand, there is no justification for awarding tens of millions of dollars never seen by victims of death and serious injuries.”
Citing the heavy-handed verdict, an overly “passionate” and “prejudiced” jury and an “improper closing argument,” which “undermined the fairness of the trial,” Gawker asked the court for a new trial.
Lawyers for Gawker also pressed for the court to reverse damages against Denton and Daulerio, specifically. The defense claims that Denton “did not participate in the publication of the sex tape” and that he didn’t have a “culpable state of mind.” The argument was weaker for Daulerio, who lawyers said “thought” the clip was “newsworthy” and potentially a “publicity stunt” in which Bollea was involved.
The defense argued that “even if punitive damages could be charged against Mr. Daulerio and — by extension — Gawker, they certainly could not be charged against Mr. Denton.”
It was revealed during the trial that Denton’s net worth is about $121 million and that Daulerio has nothing but $27,000 in student debt.
In a separate motion requesting a new trial, Gawker’s attorneys seek to reverse the $115 million judgment, which if the Web site is forced to pay, would likely bankrupt the media firm, whose assets amount to $83 million.
“Based on those numbers, any award of punitive damages against any of the defendants would be ruinous in light of the compensatory damages already awarded,” court papers said.