By: Zhuo Zhao
Chris Benoit, a professional wrestler, murdered his family and committed suicide. It was assumed that he did so due to a drug addiction, but after an autopsy and toxicology report, a new discovery was made—Benoit had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (“CTE”), a brain disease which has been linked from multiple contact sports to suicide and aggressive behavior. CTE is a degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans, and others with repetitive brain trauma. Benoit’s tragedy is not unfamiliar to other wrestlers who face “long-term injuries, a historically unregulated workplace, grueling road schedule, no off-season [,] and the increased risk of CTE.”
In September 2018, sixty professional retired wrestlers sued World Wrestling Entertainment (“WWE”) for attempting to avoid responsibility for the wrestlers’ health. The United States District Court of Connecticut ruled against sixty professional wrestlers and barred them from suing WWE organization for hiding their head injuries. The court found that because the plaintiffs had stopped wrestling before they could allege the sports entertainment group knew about the risk of their head injuries, the plaintiff’s claims were time barred and filed too late. On November 9, 2018, the plaintiffs appealed their case to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York and argued that WWE subjected them to brutal, unregulated working conditions that resulted in “long-term latent occupational injuries, diseases, and damages.”
WWE argued that the plaintiffs failed to allege any facts to show that WWE was aware of a link between wrestling and permanent degenerative neurological conditions like CTE before the 2007 death of wrestler Chris Benoit. Further, WWE argued that after Benoit’s death and the finding of CTE, the plaintiffs were put on notice of the diagnosis but waited years later to file, making their claims baseless. WWE argued not only that the claims failed to show any specific wrongdoing by the organization, but that the wrestlers enjoyed the benefits of the contracts for years with no complaints.
In the original suit, Plaintiffs directed WWE to multiple documents and asserted WWE made deceptive statements about head injuries like CTE that Benoit died of. However, this argument was rejected as the plaintiffs’ introduction of “undifferentiated masses of documents” is not sufficient to substitute the interrogatories required. Plaintiffs’ vague response that an individual made public statements, without providing such statements is non-responsive and contrary to the essential purposes of discovery. As of 2019, the appeals court ruled that an appeal can proceed pending the resolution of additional cases which have been consolidated in Federal Court in Connecticut.
The lower court correctly ruled against the sixty-seven Plaintiffs who not only filed their claims too late but had no direct evidence to substantiate their claims. The wrestlers knowingly signed a contract with WWE and waited until after retirement to file against the organization. If the wrestlers had filed after Benoit’s death in 2007, then the wrestlers could argue their claims were not baseless. However, waiting over a decade to file against the organization made their claims unjustifiable. If the Second Circuit Court reverses the lower court’s decision and allows the wrestlers to sue WWE, then players involved in other aggressive contact sports such as football, hockey, or rugby, could use the same argument for head injuries, diseases, and damages sustained from playing the sport. Even if participating in the sport is a voluntary action, players could use this argument in an attempt to make their organizations liable and pay for their medical injuries.
See Konstantine Kyros, Memory of Chris Benoit: CTE, Wrestler Mistreatment Haunt McMahon, WWE Legacy, WWE Concussion Lawsuit Blog(Oct. 8, 2018), https://wweconcussionlawsuitnews.com/memory-of-chris-benoit-cte-wrestler-mistreatment-haunt-mcmahon-wwe-legacy/.
What is CTE?, Concussion Legacy Found.,https://concussionfoundation.org/CTE-resources/what-is-CTE (last visited Oct. 13, 2019).
See Kyros, supra note 1.
See McCullough v. World Wrestling Entm’t Inc., No. 3:15-CV-01074, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135018, at *59 (D. Conn. Sept. 17, 2018).
See Mike Curley, WWE Wrestlers’ Lawsuits Appealed to Second Circuit Court of Appeals,Law360(Nov. 27, 2018, 3:04 PM), https://www.law360.com/articles/1105143.
See Mike Curley, WWE Wrestlers Fight to Save Concussion Suits at 2nd Cir., Law360(Oct. 8, 2019, 5:48 PM), https://www.law360.com/sports-and-betting/articles/1207180/wwe-tells-2nd-circ-no-rematch-in-wrestler-concussion-suit.
Curley, supra note 8.
See McCullough v. World Wrestling Entm’t Inc., No. 3:15-CV-01074, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135018, at *8-9 (D. Conn. Sept. 17, 2018).
Id. at 9.
See Plaintiffs/Former Wrestlers,WWE Concussion Lawsuit Blog (2019), https://wweconcussionlawsuitnews.com/plaintiffsformer-wrestlers/.