Update January 20, 2015 – Two more former WWE wrestlers have filed a separate proposed class action against the WWE with similar arguments to the below litigation.
Following a series of high profile brain injury lawsuits hitting professional sports, the world of Combat Sports has now been brought into this unwelcome club.
William Haynes aka Billy Jack Haynes, a former professional wrestler, filed a lawsuit earlier this week in US Federal Court against the WWE. The lawsuit follows a similar model to the NFL brain injury class action, namely allegations that the WWE fraudulently covered up the true medical toll of the sport from their athletes. The most troubling allegation, one which if proven is likely to create the greatest chance of success, states that “instead of stopping wrestling matches when wrestlers have sustained head injuries, WWE, along with its doctors and medical professionals, has allowed such matches to continue” and that “during and after wrestling matches, medical professionals associated with WWE have negligently or purposefully failed to diagnose concussions” and lastly that “For years, WWE employed medical staff for the purpose of rubber-stamping a wrestler’s participation long past the outer boundaries of then-known safety guidelines“.
The lawsuit seeks class action status but has not yet been certified, the allegations have not yet been proven.
While many don’t consider professional wrestling to be a true combat sport given its predetermined outcomes, there is no doubt that these athletes are exposed to significant trauma over the course of their careers. Whether this claim succeeds or not, the strong message to those involved in combat sports promotion is to be proactive in the face of ever growing medical understanding of traumatic brain injury sustained not only from single concussive events, but also from careers built on a foundation of multiple sub concussive impacts.
It is the duty of those who seek to profit from the toils of others to ensure those individuals understand the true risks of the enterprise. Repeated head trauma can bring serious consequences and employers who turn a blind eye to these risks, or worse yet, cover up these risks do so at their own peril.
As the NFL lawsuit has proven, allegations of fraud can go a long way in setting aside conventional limitation periods and defenses relating to informed consent. Combat Sports athletes have now taken notice and I suspect this is the first of many such claims which will be advanced in years to come.
Haynes Class Action Complaint Allegation can be found here – Haynes v. WWE Class Action Complaint