Concussion Lawsuit Body Slams Wrestling Industry

September 16th, 2016 by Attorney Julie Butcher

Professional football and hockey players aren’t the only ones involved in legal claims involving concussions and related injuries. Fifty-three retired professional wrestlers filed a lawsuit in July against World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), claiming the company hid the dangers of repetitive head injuries that have caused them crippling neurological damage, reports the Boston Globe.

The 214-page lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut (where WWE is based) spells out what allegedly happed to the plaintiffs, who claim there’s a connection between their past performances, head injuries, defendant’s alleged actions to cover up the long-term dangers of head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive, degenerative brain disease that is normally diagnosed in people with multiple head injuries, including boxers and football players.

A similar concussion-related lawsuit was filed by former professional football and hockey players against the National Football League (NFL) and National Hockey League (NHL). The suit against the NFL settled for nearly $1 billion, while the NHL case is ongoing.

The lawsuit claims that the WWE has tried to “deny, conceal and deflect attention from acknowledging that this disease (CTE) even exists in the community of retired wrestlers….’’ Plaintiffs include former WWE stars Jimmy Snuka (Superfly), Paul Orndorff (Mr. Wonderful) and Joe Laurinaitis (Road Warrior Animal). Earlier this year, 73-year-old Snuka faced a criminal charge that he murdered his girlfriend in 1983, but was not tried because he was found incompetent to stand trial because of dementia.

WWE has stated this case is the continuation of prior lawsuits that have largely been dismissed. The defendant has denied hiding medical information on concussions from wrestlers and has claimed it has done more than other sports organizations in implementing concussion management procedures.

The complaint accuses WWE and its owner, Vince McMahon, of:

  • Putting profits ahead of performers’ safety by requiring them to engage in maneuvers such as pile drivers, brainbusters and neckbreakers to entertain crowds and market its products, despite the health dangers.
  • For many years requiring wrestlers to participate in scripted matches in which they hit each other in the head with metal chairs; the practice was banned in 2010.

Professional wrestling is classified as entertainment due to its choreographed nature and predetermined outcomes. Though performers may at times pretend to be in pain, repetitive blows to the head are all but inevitable during events and practices.

WWE performers are treated as independent contractors, don’t have union representation like many other professional athletes and wouldn’t qualify for workers’ compensation for their injuries if they are not classified as employees. The lawsuit also claims WWE misclassified wrestlers as independent contractors to avoid employment rights and health benefits.

Some of the plaintiffs claim their wrestling-related brain injuries are so severe they require psychiatric care for symptoms including suicidal thoughts, which have been associated with CTE. Laurinaitis, 56, alleges he performed hundreds of nights a year, suffering at least four major concussions, but he got little or no treatment from defendant’s ringside physicians. He claims a number of cognitive problems, including memory loss.

Serious brain injuries can occur in a number of circumstances, not just during professional sporting events. Limbs from negligently maintained trees can fall on unsuspecting citizens without warning. Unstable, heavy stock from retail shelving can fall on business patrons. However, we most often see traumatic brain injuries as a result of car and truck wrecks. And, a victim doesn’t have to black out or be diagnosed with a concussion for the resulting head injury to have a profound and lifelong effect on his or her life.

If you or a loved one in Kentucky has suffered brain injuries due to the negligence of a responsible party, call the Julie Butcher Law Office at 859-233-3641 or fill out our contact form to talk about your case, applicable laws and your legal options.