A class-action lawsuit against the WWE was filed Monday on behalf of dozens of pro wrestlers, including Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka and Joseph “Road Warrior Animal” Laurinaitis. The suit alleges that the wrestlers incurred “long term neurological injuries” in the course of working for the company, while it “routinely failed to care” for them ” in any medically competent or meaningful manner” and even “fraudulently misrepresented and concealed” the nature and extent of those injuries.
“Instead of upholding its duty to its employees, WWE placed corporate gain over its wrestlers’ health, safety, and financial security, choosing to leave the Plaintiffs severely injured and with no recourse to treat their damaged minds and bodies,” stated the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut, where the WWE is located.
Other well-known wrestlers whose names are attached to the suit include Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff, Salvador “Chavo” Guerrero IV, Chris “King Kong Bundy” Pallies and Terry “Sabu” Brunk. Earl and Dave Hebner, twins who have long worked as referees in wrestling matches, are also among the 53 plaintiffs, with WWE owner Vince McMahon listed as a defendant along with his company.
Snuka, 73, is being represented in the lawsuit by his wife, Carole. In June, a judge ruled him mentally incompetent to stand trial for murder and manslaughter charges in a 33-year-old case involving the death of a former girlfriend. Defense attorneys and expert witnesses argued that Snuka suffered from extreme dementia and had gotten his “bell rung a few times” during his wrestling career.
The class-action suit addressed the possibility of the company invoking a contact-sports exception for negligence liability by stating, “WWE wrestling matches, unlike other contact sports, involve very specific moves that are scripted, controlled, directed and choreographed by WWE. As such the moves that resulted in Named Plaintiffs’ head injuries were the direct result of the WWE’s actions.”
“The wrestling moves that involve the occupational head trauma that causes CTE and associated diseases from the accumulated effects of TBIs [traumatic brain injuries] are the result of wrestling moves and maneuvers that were performed ‘correctly’ by the Plaintiffs,” the lawsuit said. “In other words, the head trauma that has resulted in injury is the accumulated effect of many impacts to the Plaintiffs’ heads that occurred on a regular, routine basis during their WWE career.”
The WWE responded with a statement, saying (via Bloomberg) “This is another ridiculous attempt by the same attorney who has previously filed class-action lawsuits against WWE, both of which have been dismissed. A federal judge has already found that this lawyer made patently false allegations about WWE, and this is more of the same.”
The lawyer in question, Massachusetts-based Konstantine Kyros, has previously filed lawsuits against the WWE, with similar claims. The company has succeeded in having some of those suits dismissed, but one involving former WWE wrestlers Vito LoGrasso and Evan Singleton is still being contested in court.
“Plaintiffs were professional wrestlers who were financially compensated to engage in an activity in which physical violence was a known and even purposeful part of the activity,” U.S. District Judge Vanessa Bryant wrote in March, while dismissing complaints against the WWE brought by Russ McCullough, Matthew “Luther Reigns” Wiese, Ryan Sakoda and William Albert “Billy Jack” Haynes, all of whom were represented at least partially by Kyros. “They were injured by other participants in what the plaintiffs describe as a ‘scripted’ performance and thus in a manner that the plaintiff knew or should have reasonably anticipated.”
As part of the LoGrasso-Singleton proceedings, lawyers for the WWE have subpoenaed Bennet Omalu, the neuropathologist who first identified CTE, seeking to have him turn over his research on Chris Benoit and other deceased wrestlers. Omalu claimed that a posthumous examination of the brain of Benoit, who hanged himself after murdering his wife and son in 2007, revealed CTE, and the physician has been studying the brains of more recently deceased wrestlers such as Joanie “Chyna” Laurer, Jonathan “Balls Mahoney” Rechner and Brian “Axl Rotten” Knighton.
The NFL and NHL have also seen class-action lawsuits related to players suffering brain injuries. In April, a federal judge upheld a settlement between the NFL and thousands of former players that could result in total payments of $1 billion.