Investor Peter Thiel Rumored to Have Financed Hulk Hogan’s Lawsuit Against Gawker
Hulk Hogan had a helping hand in his legal fight against media company Gawker.
PayPal co-founder and Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel has reportedly help finance Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker for invading his privacy, according to reports from Forbes and the New York Times, both citing anonymous sources. Thiel reportedly agreed to pay for Hogan’s legal team.
Hogan, whose legal name is Terry Bollea, took Gawker to court earlier this year for publishing a video of him having sex with a friend’s wife in 2012, claiming it invaded his privacy. In March, a Florida jury sided with Hogan and awarded him a total of $140 million, a sum that could bankrupt the New York City-based media company. Gawker is appealing the judgement, of course.
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A personal vendetta against Gawker wouldn’t be a surprising motive for Thiel. In 2007, one of Gawker’s blogs, Valleywag, which focused on the tech industry, outed Thiel as gay despite his attempt to remain private about his sexual orientation. Thiel has since been vocal about his disdain for the blog, once calling it “the Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda” in an interview with financial news site PEHub.
Along with PayPal, Thiel also made his fortune by being Facebook’s first outside investor, and still sits on the company’s board of directors.
Questions about a possible secret backer of Hogan’s lawsuit first arose when his legal team made an unusual move. Hogan’s lawyers withdrew a claim in the lawsuit that would have caused Gawker’s insurance company to cover Gawker’s legal costs and the payout in the event of a loss, according to a story from the Times on Monday in which Gawker founder Nick Denton expressed suspicions that a Silicon Valley insider funded the lawsuit. The move appeared to be designed to financially penalize Gawker specifically, instead of letting its insurance company pay up. Denton has allegedly suspected for some time that the insider was Thiel, according to tech news site Recode, citing anonymous sources close to Denton.
Even if true, Thiel’s financial backing of Hogan’s lawsuit is not illegal. In the U.S., third-party lawsuit financing is not only legal, but there’s an entire industry built around the practice. Though these outside backers often negotiate to receive a portion of the payout in the event of a win, it’s unclear whether it’s the case in Thiel’s agreement with Hogan—if there is one at all.
Fortune has contacted Founders Fund, one of Thiel’s investment funds, and will update if we hear more.