Hulk Hogan Verdict Is a 'Huge Win for Celebrities,' Legal Expert Says

Karen Fultz, Brendan Beer and Midwin Charles weigh in.

ByJoi-marie Mckenzie
March 19, 2016, 4:09 PM

— -- After Hulk Hogan was awarded $115 million in his lawsuit against Gawker, legal experts say the case could have many ramifications on future media coverage of celebrities and the First Amendment right to free speech.

Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, sued the website for invasion of privacy after it posted a portion of a sex tape with the former pro wrestler and his former friend's then-wife in 2012. Much of Hogan's testimony in the trial centered on the difference between his fictional public character, and Bollea, the private citizen.

Right after the decision was handed down Friday, Gawker's founder, Nick Denton said the site was already planning an appeal in Florida.

Karen Fultz, defamation and invasion of privacy law professor at WMU-Cooley Law School in Tampa Bay, Florida, told ABC News the verdict is a boon for celebrities.

"I think it is a huge win for celebrities because of the heightened burden that they have to prove [in court] for this type of claim," she told ABC News.

The verdict also puts other media companies on notice, ABC News Senior Legal Correspondent and Analyst Sunny Hostin said.

"This jury and the Erin Andrews jury have sent a message to websites, to even those that will post private images of even non-celebrities on the [Inter]net that society won't stand for it anymore," she said.

Hostin was referring to last week's verdict when a jury awarded Andrews $55 million in her civil lawsuit over the secret recording and release of a video showing her naked during a hotel stay. The sportscaster sued the owner and operator of the Nashville, Tennessee, hotel where she was staying, and Michael David Barrett, the stalker who used a hacksaw to tamper with her room's peephole and record the video in 2008.

"I always say that it takes the law a really long time to catch up with technology, but the law is catching up in this area and juries are speaking pretty forcefully that this is beyond the pale when it comes to posting sex videos or intimate pictures or nude photos of even a celebrity without their consent," Hostin said.

While some legal analysts say the Hogan case could find its way to the Supreme Court, legal analyst Midwin Charles said she doesn't think it will go that far.

"I doubt though that an appeal will be successful," she said. "Usually when a case goes up on an appeal and that decision has been decided by a jury ... a lot of times appellate courts do not like to reverse that because they want to maintain the integrity of jury decisions."

Charles said, however, that she thinks Gawker's appeal may be successful in reducing the amount of monetary damages it is ordered to pay Hogan.

Fultz agreed that a reduction in damages is possible, adding: "Sometimes when cases are appealed, the parties could settle out of court."

Hogan was awarded $55 million in economic damages and $60 million for emotional distress. A hearing was scheduled for Monday to determine whether punitive damages will be awarded.

"Juries typically send their message in dollar figures in the punitive phase," Hostin said. "Everyone is shocked and flabbergasted at the amount of the award that the jury has awarded, but I think people are going to be really shocked when the punitive damages come down because that's where the jury says, 'Not only was this inappropriate, we're going to punish you for it. Society will not stand for this behavior, for this conduct.'"

According to Florida law, Gawker will have to post $50 million pending the appeal process, which Hostin said could take up to two years.

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