HARTFORD (CN) -The widow of a World Wrestling Entertainment performer sued the company and its former CEO Linda McMahon in Federal Court, claiming McMahon, who resigned in 2009 to run for U.S. Senate, used the late Owen Hart’s persona without permission in dozens of commercial videos and other materials. Owen Hart, 34, died when he fell 80 feet from a harness as it lowered him to a wrestling ring in Kansas City on May 23, 1999 with 16,500 spectators watching.
Martha Hart claims that violates terms of an $18 million settlement with WWE back in 2000.
McMahon, expected to run as the Republican candidate against Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, has tried to downplay the sometimes-lurid aspects of the business she ran for decades with her husband, Vince, who also is named as a defendant. Blumenthal, a Democrat, has had his own publicity problems in the race, having been found to have exaggerated his service record during the Vietnam war.
Martha Hart claims the WWE and McMahon “insisted that Owen perform the stunt despite knowing he was uncomfortable with such extreme heights and the manner he was to descend, and hired grossly inadequate personnel and equipment to enhance the stunt’s theatrical effect. Defendants have never once apologized to Martha or Owen’s and her children for their role in causing Owen’s death.”
The widow added in a statement: “In the 11 years since Owen’s tragic and avoidable death, I have worked tirelessly to disassociate Owen’s name and likeness from anything related to WWE in order to protect our children from any reminder of the circumstances surrounding their father’s death, and to avoid any misplaced perception that I endorse WWE.
“Given this callous, insensitive and irresponsible behavior, one must question the moral character of Vince and Linda McMahon and the manner in which they conduct their business.”Hart wants the McMahons and WWE enjoined from using of Owen Hart’s name and likeness, and wants unpaid royalties and damages for breach of contract, copyright infringement, unjust enrichment, accounting and unfair and deceptive trade.
Jerry McDevitt, a lawyer who has represented the WWE for years, said Hart’s lawsuit “reeks of political overtones.”
McDevitt said Hart filed an injunction against the WWE in Ontario, Canada, in March, seeking to prevent the release of “Hart & Soul: The Hart Family Anthology.” He said Hart lost and had to pay WWE’s legal fees.
He called the most recent lawsuit “meritless” and a “routine garden variety intellectual property lawsuit.”
Hart is represented by Stacie Boeniger Collier with Nixon Peabody’s Providence, R.I., office.