WWE Knocks Out Consolidated Concussion Case

(CN) – Just as World Wrestling Entertainment overwhelmed rivals like ECW and the AWA, Vince McMahon’s pro wrestling empire triumphed this week in a series of concussion-related lawsuits filed by former wrestlers.

Former professional wrestler Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka leaves Lehigh County Courthouse in Allentown, Pa., on Nov. 2, 2015. On Sept. 17, 2018, a federal judge in Connecticut dismissed a 2016 lawsuit by 60 former wrestlers, including Snuka, who claimed World Wrestling Entertainment failed to protect them from concussions that led to long-term brain damage. (Michael Kubel/The Morning Call via AP, File)

U.S. District Judge Vanessa Bryant in Connecticut, where WWE is headquartered, dismissed the six consolidated complaints Monday in a 40-page decision.

Almost a year ago, the court directed Konstantine Kyros, the wrestlers’ attorney, to file amended pleadings that complied with the federal rules of civil procedure.

The court also told Kyros to produce information about when the wrestlers worked for WWE, and anything that would prove WWE or its agents “should have known that wrestling caused any traumatic brain injuries, including CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).”

Finding that Kyros failed to comply with the order, Bryant sanctioned him and dismissed the wrestlers’ lawsuits.

Bryant stated that Kyros’ complaints were rife with “irrelevant, inflammatory and inaccurate information.”

One lawsuit, filed by wrestlers Evan Singleton and Vito Lograsso, alleged fraudulent omission and survived the summary judgment stage.

However, the court ruled in March that WWE did not know of the risk before 2007, when Lograsso retired, and that the company had warned Singleton of the risk before he retired in 2012.

In a second lawsuit, WWE went on the offensive, seeking a declaratory judgment that the potential claims in the wrestlers’ demand letters were barred by the statutes of repose and limitation.

The four wrestlers in this case were 1980s-era stars Robert “Blackjack Mulligan” Windham, Thomas “Dynamite Kid” Billington, James “Koko B.” Ware and Oreal “Ivan Koloff” Perras.

Bryant ruled that Ware and Billington’s affidavits did not include “any facts suggesting that WWE knew of the risks of CTE or any other permanent degenerative neurological condition before either wrestler retired and failed to disclose this risk, either fraudulently or despite a continuing duty to either wrestler to warn him of these risks.”

The court dismissed Windham and Perras from the case, as they are now deceased.

The third lawsuit, filed by Kyros and four other attorneys in 2016, was 213 pages long and included 53 wrestlers, ranging from Hall of Famers like Joe “Road Warrior Animal” Laurinaitas to journeymen like “Beef Stew” Lou Marconi.

WWE and McMahon moved for sanctions, claiming the lawsuit contained “patently false allegations” and “time-barred and frivolous legal claims” and included allegations regarding football player Mike Webster of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who was not a wrestler.

Bryant ruled that under the law-of-the-case doctrine, the wrestlers’ claims of fraudulent concealment and medical monitoring must be dismissed because of the court’s “clear holding, in the very first of the WWE concussion cases that attorney Kyros filed, that neither constitute causes of action under Connecticut law.”

She also noted that the wrestlers’ cases are time-barred because none of them have wrestled for WWE since 2011.

Bryant also dismissed the wrestlers’ claims that they were misclassified as independent contractors as part of a “scheme to defraud” them.

“These wrestlers must have known of their classification as independent contractors either when these deals were first made, or when each of these wrestlers received tax paperwork within the year of making that deal,” she wrote.

The wrestlers also asserted that they were coerced into signing boilerplate contracts that were “unconscionable,” but Bryant ruled that those claims are also time-barred.

“Each plaintiff who signed a booking contract with WWE enjoyed the benefits of those contracts without seeking legal intervention for years following the execution of the contracts, and indeed, years following the termination of each plaintiff’s employment with WWE,” she wrote.

The judge also stated that Chris Benoit’s double murder-suicide case in 2007 did not cause WWE to become aware of a link between wrestling and CTE.

“The circumstances surrounding Mr. Benoit’s death were so tragic and so horrifying that it would have been reasonable for his fellow wrestlers to follow news developments about him and about CTE, through which they could have deduced that they were at risk of developing CTE and sought medical opinions about risks to their own health,” Bryant wrote.

She added that the wrestlers’ attorneys wasted the court’s time by including irrelevant information, like wrestler Marty Jannetty’s broken ankle, to “do nothing more than paint WWE as a villain.”

Bryant ordered that Kyros produce a copy of her ruling to any other wrestlers he may represent in injury-related litigation against WWE.

Kryos said in a statement that he stands for “professional wrestlers who face the prospect of losing their identity and consciousness to the effects of a latent occupational disease.”

“The court ignored the pleas for help contained in 60 very personal affidavits written to the judge filed by each wrestler or their family. The reasoning of the opinion itself is flimsy as the court finds, in ignorance of the facts, that there is no reasonable basis for the assertions, despite a substantial body of medical peer reviewed literature going back almost a hundred years,” he said.

The attorney said he would appeal to the Second Circuit.

WWE’s lead counsel in the case, Jerry McDevitt, said in a statement that he was pleased with the ruling and “there was no merit to any of this stuff.”

“The lawsuit was designed to overwhelm the court with sheer volume, to see if there’s something worthwhile. That never works, and it didn’t work here,” he said.

McDevitt added that he was confident the company would prevail on appeal.

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