Dozens of former World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (WWE) wrestlers have locked the WWE and its chairman, Vince McMahon, in a legal chokehold, alleging that the WWE failed to protect the wrestlers from the risks of repetitive head injury. On Monday, July 18, 2016, over fifty (50) wrestlers joined in filing a class action lawsuit with the federal court in New Haven, Connecticut. The WWE is the latest professional sports organization to face head trauma litigation, joining the NFL and NHL
The complaint alleges that the WWE failed to give wrestlers notice that even under the best of circumstances, properly performed wrestling moves were likely to cause long-term neurological problems as a result of head trauma. According to the former wrestlers, the organization and its chairman did not properly care for the wrestlers’ health or medical well-being, including failure to comply with any form of return-to-play guidelines followed by contact sports. The WWE’s failure to mitigate occupational head trauma has left former wrestlers suffering from neurological diseases, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE); this year, former wrestler Chyna’s brain was donated to research the disease following her premature death.
The WWE has previously escaped litigation by classifying its wrestlers as independent contractors as opposed to employees of the organization. According to Daniel Wallach, a sports law expert, the wrestlers fall through legal protection as independent contractors, receiving no medical benefits or protections the typical employee would receive. The lack of legal protections has left the wrestlers as “the most disposable athletes” in the business. The complaint attempts to escape the contact-sports exception for negligence liability, stating that the moves and acts are controlled by the WWE. The complaint states:
The occupational head trauma sustained by the Plaintiffs is also a consequence of more serious concussions, as well as frequent sub-concussive head injuries, which occurred in the ordinary course of each of the Named Plaintiffs’ WWE tenure.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages. Similar to suits against other professional sports leagues, the former wrestlers seek improved medical monitoring. The claims, however, have been filed by Konstantine Kyros, who has previously filed class action lawsuits against the WWE, which have all been dismissed. In a statement, the WWE considered the new allegations to be just as false as previous ones and likely to be dismissed.
If this case follows a playbook similar to other head trauma litigation in professional sports, the wrestlers should expect to fight the duration of the match. Unless, of course, the court delivers a knockout punch early in litigation or the parties can settle the matter before the drawn out court match reaches the later rounds.
Notable plaintiffs include Joseph ‘Road Warrior Animal’ Laurinatitis, Paul ‘Mr. Wonderful’ Orndoff, and Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka.