World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. was sued on behalf of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka and dozens of other retired wrestlers who claim the company hid the long-term effects of neurological injuries from years of being pounded in and out of the ring.
The suit makes the Stamford, Connecticut-based company the latest professional sports organization to face litigation over head injuries, following the National Football League and the National Hockey League.
The WWE is accused in the lawsuit of failing to care for wrestlers’ repetitive head injuries “in any medically competent or meaningful manner” and misrepresenting and concealing the nature of long-term neurological injuries they suffered as a result of their careers.
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 athletes said in the complaint, which was filed Monday in federal court in New Haven, Connecticut.
WWE said it’s confident the case will be dismissed.
“This is another ridiculous attempt by the same attorney who has previously filed class action lawsuits against WWE, both of which have been dismissed,” the organization 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.”
Other wrestlers suing the WWE include the lead plaintiff, Joseph Laurinaitis, 55, also known as “The Road Warrior Animal,” and Chris Pallies, 60, the wrestler known as “King Kong Bundy.”
Unlike other sports, WWE matches involve specific moves that are “scripted, controlled, directed and choreographed” by the company, the suit says. The head injuries are a direct result of those moves, which include the “body slam” and the “piledriver,” the wrestlers say in their suit. A “body slam” is a move in which a wrestler is picked up and thrown to the ground, and a “piledriver,” once popular but now largely banned, involves turning a wrestler upside down and dropping him head first to the mat.
The retired wrestlers say the WWE deliberately ignored and hid from them “medically important and possibly lifesaving information” about specific neurological conditions, such as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, that affect wrestlers and athletes who play contact sports prone to head trauma.
“The WWE knows that its wrestlers including the plaintiffs are at great risk for these diseases such as CTE that can result in suicide, drug abuse and violent behavior that pose a danger to not only the athletes themselves but their families and community, yet the WWE does nothing to warn, educate or provide treatment to them,” the wrestlers said in the suit.
“These wrestlers don’t have medical benefits. They’re independent contractors,” said Daniel Wallach, a sports law expert with Becker & Poliakoff in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “They completely fall through the safety net. They’re in worse shape than retired professional football players or retired hockey players. They’re the most disposable athletes in the sports and entertainment business. It was inevitable this day would come.”
More than 5,000 former NFL players sued the league seeking damages for head injuries, and the league agreed to pay $765 million to resolve the claims as part of a settlement approved in April 2015 and upheld on appeal earlier this year. The NHL also faces a lawsuit by a group of retired players over claims it glorified violence and failed to protect them from repeated head injuries. The league lost a bid to throw out the case last year.
The case is Laurinaitis v. World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., 3:16-cv-01209, U.S. District Court, District of Connecticut (New Haven.)
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