Some 50 former wrestlers are suing World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., alleging the Stamford-based company is responsible for major neurological damage they sustained from their performances in the ring.
The lawsuit was filed this week in U.S. District Court. Its plaintiffs include Joseph Laurinaitis, a.k.a. Road Warrior Animal, and Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka. It asserts that the neurological disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy and other cognitive problems the plaintiffs developed were caused by repetitive head trauma suffered in WWE matches.
The plaintiffs are seeking damages exceeding $5 million. WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon is also named as a defendant.
“WWE wrestling matches, unlike other contact sports, involve very specific moves that are scripted, controlled, directed and choreographed by WWE,” the lawsuit states. “As such, the moves that resulted in named plaintiffs’ head injuries were the direct result of the WWE’s actions.”
WWE officials said they rejected the lawsuit’s arguments.
“This is another ridiculous attempt by the same attorney (Konstantine Kyros, of Massachusetts) who has previously filed class action lawsuits against WWE, both of which have been dismissed,” WWE said in a statement. “A federal judge has already found that this lawyer made patently false allegations about WWE, and this is more of the same. We’re confident this lawsuit will suffer the same fate as his prior attempts and be dismissed.”
A message left for Kyros was not immediately returned.
Stamford-based Brenden Leydon, one of the other attorneys representing the wrestlers, dismissed WWE’s criticism of Kyros.
“There is nothing ridiculous about this case,” Leydon said. “WWE’s misclassification of its wrestlers as independent contractors is an outrageous scheme to shift to the taxpayers its legal obligation to the catastrophically wounded talent who literally gave their blood sweat and tears for it. It needs to stop immediately.”
The lawsuit also accuses WWE of misrepresenting and concealing from the plaintiffs the nature and extent of their injuries and ignoring and misconstruing links between repetitive and traumatic brain injuries and neurological problems.
“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,” the suit states.
The wrestlers said they were pressured to perform while they were injured, according to the lawsuit.
“WWE is a big dance. If you don’t do it, someone else will, and 99 percent of the time you perform under duress,” Laurinaitis said in a comment included in the lawsuit. “Injured, you suck it up and perform, keep your mouth shut.”
WWE’s misrepresentation of the research on head injuries and neurological damage was financially motivated, the wrestlers claim.
“WWE knew or suspected that any alterations to wrestling programs that minimized the dangerous moves could weaken its product which relies on violent action to sell,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit also faults WWE for allegedly failing to properly communicate with wrestlers about occupational hazards.
The former wrestlers are now living with the daily, debilitating effects of their head injuries during their time in the ring, according to the lawsuit. Snuka, 72, faces a range of cognitive issues include depression, anger, mood swings, headaches, dizziness, severe loss of memory and confusion.
Other major athletic organizations have been rocked by recent class-action lawsuits tied to head injuries. In April, a federal appeals court upheld a concussion settlement with some 20,000 retired NFL players that could pay out approximately $1 billion to the plaintiffs.