The world of professional wrestling and the world of litigation funding hit the headlines across the planet following a controversial court case in America. Some say it was a victory for the little man (make that big man); some say the help of litigation funding replaced suing for justice with suing for profit.
But without third party litigation funding, Hulk Hogan would never have forced a gossip website into submission – and, subsequently, closure. The motives behind the litigation finance are being questioned but most people reading the facts of the case would side with Hogan. Surely, everyone is entitled to privacy and not to have their private lives splashed across the internet – however famous they are.
The Case – Bollea v. Gawker
Former professional wrestler and actor Hulk Hogan, a married man, was filmed having sex with the wife of his best friend. Whether either of them knew their antics were being videoed was the subject of much debate in court.
However, Gawker Media acquired the tape and uploaded a section onto its gossip website. Hogan was, as you can imagine, not best pleased. The 6ft 8in superstar, who was 59 at the time and weighed in at his peak at 300 pounds, demanded his day in court. And a jury in Florida slammed Gawker with a bill for an eye-watering $140m damages for invasion of privacy.
The Backer – Venture Capitalist Peter Thiel
So far, so straightforward – or as straightforward as celebrity cases like this can be. Then it was revealed that Hogan had secret financial help in bringing the case.
Litigation financing companies are quite common. They finance court cases, after assessing the risk, for a percentage or a share of the claim if successful. But Hogan had help from a man who – it was claimed by some – had ulterior motives.
Venture capitalist Peter Thiel, the billionaire founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, was outed by the website as gay in 2007 when attitudes to homosexuality were vastly different than in today’s more liberal world.
It was alleged that this was just one of a long line of lawsuits that Thiel had financed in an attempt to bring Gawker down. In other words, an act of revenge. But as the counter argument goes: Thiel’s involvement had nothing to do with the outcome of the case apart from ensuring that there would be a case and, therefore, there would be an outcome.
Perhaps not surprisingly, when faced with such a huge bill, the Gawker website closed down after a 14-year run.
So why should larger companies with their massive resources run roughshod over individuals, even if they are famous? Surely everyone should have access to justice, regardless of wealth. And how would class actions happen without litigation funding?
The Last Word
Perhaps we should leave the last word to Hogan, who changed his name from Terry Gene Bollea because of his resemblance to comic book hero the Incredible Hulk. In a triumphant tweet after the case, he said: “They messed with the wrong guy.”
What are your thoughts on this case? Share them with us in the comments.