(Editor’s Note: What follows is an article written by Sports Law Professor Michael S. Carroll, PhD and Andrew L. Goldsmith, PhD about the concussion litigation involving the WWE. To see the full story, subscribe to Concussion Litigation Reporter at this link – https://concussionpolicyandthelaw.com/subscribe/)
Growing concern over the past few years regarding the impact of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and concussions among athletes in contact sports has resulted in a number of policy and rule changes within a variety of sport organizations. Additionally, litigation has ensued against a number of these organizations, including the National Football League (NFL), the National Hockey League (NHL), and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), mostly based in negligence liability. Although concussions and TBI are most often associated with the sport of football, especially given the recent high-profile $765 NFL concussion settlement, athletes in other sports often face the same if not more extreme physical contact and violence. World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE) has operated in the US since 1952, providing professional wrestling entertainment to hundreds of millions of fans through television, film, music, videogames, product licensing, and product sales. It is the largest professional wrestling organization in the world, and hosts hundreds of events a year that are broadcasted to over 650 million viewers in over 170 countries. WWE provides sports entertainment, which could be described as aggressive ballet, to viewers through semi-scripted contests and events between wrestlers, while simultaneously following various storylines. Violence and aggression are a natural part of professional wrestling, and injuries are quite common among wrestlers, sometimes serious in nature.
In October of 2014, former professional wrestler, William Albert Haynes, filed a class action lawsuit in the United Stated Court for the District of Oregon against the WWE in regards to TBI and concussions (Haynes v. World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., Case 3:14-cv-01689-ST, 2014). The proposed Class was defined as:
All persons who currently or formerly wrestled for World Wide Entertainment or a predecessor company, and who reside in the United States.
Excluded from the Class are Defendant, any entity in which Defendant have a controlling interest or which has a controlling interest of Defendant, and Defendant’s legal representatives, assigns and successors. Also excluded are the judge to whom this case is assigned and any member of the judge’s immediate family (p. 33).
Haynes wrestled in the WWE for two years, from 1986 to 1988, during which time he wrestled approximately 26-27 days a month, including 97 days in a row at one point. Haynes claims that he was perpetually exhausted during this time, making him more susceptible to injury as well as injuring others. During his tenure with the WWE, Haynes claims that he sustained numerous injuries and was pressured by the WWE to continue wrestling through them, including those relating to his head. He estimates that he suffered at least 15 concussions during his entire wrestling career and many more sub-concussive blows. He claimed … (To subscribe to Concussion Litigation Reporter, visit https://concussionpolicyandthelaw.com/subscribe/)