More than 50 retired wrestlers sued World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. on Monday, claiming its actions directly resulted in their neurological injuries.
"WWE wrestling matches, unlike other contact sports, involve very specific moves that are scripted, controlled, directed and choreographed by WWE," says the suit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. "As such the moves that resulted in named plaintiffs' head injuries were the direct result of the WWE's actions."
Among the named plaintiffs are "Road Warrior Animal" Joseph Laurinaitis and Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, who was found unfit last month to stand trial on murder charges due to dementia. The plaintiffs seek damages for pain and suffering and medical monitoring, among other things.
WWE responded with a statement calling the claims "patently false" and "ridiculous."
The primary neurological injury named in the 214-page complaint is chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which has been in the news due to professional football players suffering from the same condition. CTE can only be definitively diagnosed after a person has died and an autopsy is performed, but all of the plaintiffs say they have various symptoms associated with the disease. Former wrestler Chris Benoit, who killed his wife, daughter and himself in 2007, was found to have suffered from CTE, likely as a result of repeated head trauma during his career.
The suit, which also names promoter Vince McMahon, claims the WWE "placed corporate gain over its wrestlers' health, safety, and financial security." It goes on to claim that WWE's classification of the wrestlers as independent contractors and not actual employees denied them protection granted under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act and the National Labor Relations Act.
"Even into 2016, the WWE is failing to warn or take any steps to help retired wrestlers with head injury issues," according to the suit.
The wrestlers are represented by Brenden Leydon of Tooher Wocl & Leydon in Stamford.
"On information and belief, WWE's motive to ignore and misrepresent the link between CTE and TBI sustained in WWE performances and neurocognitive injury and decline was economic," according to the suit. "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 WWE believes the suit won't move forward.
"This is another ridiculous attempt by the same attorney who has previously filed class action lawsuits against WWE, both of which have been dismissed," according to a statement from the WWE. "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."
The suit outlines the injuries the 53 wrestlers experienced and the lasting impact they have had, most of which are cognitive difficulties, including headaches, dizziness, loss of memory, fatigue and difficulty falling asleep. The suit claims that the WWE's actions "mirror the early failures of the NFL in failing to properly assess, diagnose, and treat players" who exhibit symptoms of head trauma.
In 2006, the WWE established the Wellness Program, which created guidelines for wrestlers who suffered from head injuries while wrestling, and blows to the head were eliminated. The plaintiffs in the case all suffered the head injuries before the program was created.
The plaintiffs are seeking declaratory relief demanding that the WWE purchase workers' compensation insurance for the wrestlers and provide health insurance. The suit makes claims of negligence, fraud and intentional deprivation of statutory rights against the WWE.
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