You’ve likely seen by now that Hulk Hogan was awarded a huge verdict against Gawker. The verdict is an impressive number, but how soon can Hogan expect to get the money, and ultimately, how much will he get?
The jury awarded $50 million for economic injuries and $60 million for emotional distress. The parties will return to court on March 21 to see if the jury awards punitive damages. The $50 million portion of the verdict is for actual out-of-pocket expenses (past or future) that Hogan was able to prove. The $60 million was for the non-economic portion of the case, or Hogan’s emotional distress. Many jurisdictions, including Maryland, have a cap on the amount of non-economic damages a party can recover. So for example, if that same jury award had happened in Maryland, the emotional distress award would have been reduced to between $755,000.00 – $770,000.00. However, Florida does not have a cap on non-economic damages, so the $60 million is not subject to the immediate reduction.
Punitive damages are damages designed to punish the defendant in a civil suit. In Hogan’s case, under Florida law, in order for the jury to award punitive damages, it has to find that Gawker was guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence. There is no cap on punitive damages.
Gawker will be entitled to an appeal when this case is concluded wherein it can argue that the trial court made a legal error in the interpretation and/or application of the applicable law. However, under Florida law, if a defendant in a civil case files an appeal, they have to post a bond that covers the judgment. This bond is capped at $50 million. Florida also allows post-judgment interest at approximately 5%. For Gawker, it will likely be more cost-effective to file an appeal, post a bond for less than half of the judgment, and attempt to negotiate a settlement with Hogan and his attorneys while the appeal is pending.
It’s possible that Hogan and his attorneys will settle for a figure lower than the jury’s final verdict (also keep in mind that Hogan’s attorneys are likely entitled to legal fees between 35-40% of the final judgment or settlement amount, plus repayment of expenses and costs paid by the attorneys). There is something to be said for walking away with a guaranteed settlement versus facing the possibility of an appellate court reversing the trial court and remanding it for a new trial. Just because this jury has found in Hogan’s favor, it does not mean a second jury will.
There is also the possibility that Gawker could file for bankruptcy, which would have the likely effect of staying any ability on Hogan’s part to enforce and collect on the judgment.
So, we’ll have to wait and see what Hulkamania is going to do.