Monday, March 21, 2016

Researching Jury Verdicts & Instructions

On Friday, a Florida jury awarded $115 million to former professional wrestler Terry Bollea, better known as his 1980s alter ego, Hulk Hogan. Bollea had sued the online news outlet Gawker Media and two of its individual managers for invasion of privacy, related to the 2012 posting of a sex tape involving Bollea and the wife of a former friend. The recording, which Bollea alleged was made without his knowledge or permission, also included a conversation in which the wrestler used racial slurs. Other news outlets published summaries of the tape and the racial remarks, but only included an excerpt of the actual video. The jury's verdict included an award of $55 million for economic injuries, and another $60 million for emotional distress; the jury is currently deliberating additional punitive damages. [Update: punitive damages of $25 million were awarded on Monday evening.] Gawker Media plans to appeal.

Terry ("Hulk Hogan") Bollea, former professional wrestler, prepares to testify in a Florida court.
Photo by Getty Images.
How did the jurors arrive at the verdict, and these numbers? The answer lies in the jury instructions they were given. As illustrated in the Pinellas County Circuit Court's online docket for Bollea v. Gawker Media (case no. 12-012447), jury instructions were being reviewed as far back as last summer, and were the subject of numerous objections by both plaintiff and defendants. Unfortunately, the Pinellas County website and Bloomberg Law don’t include copies of actual filings with their docket information, but researchers can get an idea of the general instruction contents for negligence cases and calculation of damages at the Florida Standard Jury Instructions – Civil on the state court website.

Florida Standard Jury Instructions can also be found on Westlaw and Lexis Advance, along with the model or pattern jury instructions for many other jurisdictions. To locate jury instructions for a particular jurisdiction:
The nine-figure award surprised many, not just for its potential effect on Gawker's continued operation and future First Amendment rulings, but because it exceeded even Bollea's requested amount of $100 million. But how unusual is an award this size for invasion of privacy in Florida? Jury verdict reporters may help find the answer. These publications collect and summarize reports of jury verdicts, awards, and settlements, allowing attorneys and researchers to identify trends and patterns in similar cases. As described in the jury verdicts section of our research guide to Court Records and Briefs, verdict reporters can also be found on Westlaw and Lexis. A Florida jury verdicts search on Westlaw for "invasion of privacy" revealed a range of awards up to $9.7 million (for a case involving numerous tort claims) but nothing quite like Bollea v. Gawker.

For help with locating court documents, check out the Court Records and Briefs research guide or Ask a Librarian.