Ex-wrestlers, including Snuka, sue WWE over head injuries
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — More than 50 former professional wrestlers sued World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., saying the company is responsible for repeated head trauma including concussions they suffered in the ring that led to long-term neurological damage.
Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, Joseph "Road Warrior Animal" Laurinaitis and Paul "Mr. Wonderful" Orndorff are among the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit Monday in federal court in Connecticut. The lawsuit also names WWE chairman Vince McMahon as a defendant. Stamford-based WWE denies the allegations.
"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," according to the lawsuit, which does not say how much money the former wrestlers are seeking.
The plaintiffs say they suffered concussions and other head trauma that resulted in long-term brain damage.
Last month, the 73-year-old Snuka was found mentally incompetent to stand trial in the 1983 death of his girlfriend near Allentown, Pennsylvania. His defense partly blames head trauma he suffered in the ring.
Unlike other sports including football and hockey where players have suffered similar injuries, WWE wrestling matches involve specific moves scripted and choreographed by the WWE — thus making the company directly responsible for wrestlers' injuries, according to the lawsuit.
The National Football League and National Hockey League were also sued by former players who suffered concussions and other head injuries. The NFL settled for $1 billion, while the suit against the NHL is pending.
The WWE said in a statement that an attorney for the ex-wrestlers, Konstantine Kyros, has made similar claims against the company without success.
"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 company's statement said. "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."
Kyros, based in Hingham, Massachusetts, said on Tuesday that he is appealing the dismissal of two class-action lawsuits against the WWE over concussions, while two unlawful death lawsuits against WWE remain pending. The pending lawsuits were filed by the families of the late Matt "Doink the Clown" Osborne and Nelson Frazier Jr., who wrestled as Big Daddy V, Viscera and Mabel.
The lawsuit involving Osborne, who died of a drug overdose in 2013 at age 55, claims repeated concussions led to drug abuse and depression. The lawsuit involving Frazier alleges his brain injuries played a role in his death in 2014 at age 43 from a heart attack. The WWE denies the allegations in both cases.
Kyros said what's new in the latest lawsuit against WWE are allegations the company exploited its wrestlers, including misclassifying them as independent contractors and refusing to provide them with health insurance. He also said there are new civil racketeering allegations against McMahon.
"It has been the studied practice of the WWE through its counsel to denigrate the motives and integrity of anyone who is courageous enough to protest the WWE's totally self-serving choice to ignore the human toll and health crisis that its policies, fraud and mistreatment of its workers have created," Kyros said.