Former WWE wrestlers take brain damage case to Supreme Court

DAVE COLLINS
·3 min read

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Several former pro wrestlers who claimed in lawsuits that World Wrestling Entertainment failed to protect them from repeated head injuries are taking their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A lawyer for the former wrestlers filed a request late Wednesday asking the Supreme Court to hear appeals of lower court rulings that dismissed the lawsuits, saying they were filed after the statute of limitations expired. The WWE says the lawsuits are without merit and believes the appeals will not succeed.

The plaintiffs include William “Billy Jack” Haynes, Russ “Big Russ" McCullough, Ryan Sakoda, Matthew “Luther Reigns” Wiese and the wife of the late Nelson “Viscera” Frazier, also known as Big Daddy V, who died in 2014.

They were among more than 50 former wrestlers, most of them stars in the 1980s and 1990s, who sued the WWE, saying they suffered repeated head injuries including concussions that led to long-term brain damage. They accused the WWE, based in Stamford, Connecticut, of knowing of the risks of head injuries but not warning its wrestlers. Several of the lawsuits were dismissed by a lower federal court in 2018.

The other wrestlers who filed suit included Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, Joseph “Road Warrior Animal” Laurinaitis, Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff, Chris “King Kong Bundy” Pallies and Harry Masayoshi Fujiwara, known as Mr. Fuji.

Snuka and Fujiwara died in 2017 and 2016, respectively, and were diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, after their deaths, according to their lawyer. Pallies and Laurinaitis died in 2019 and 2020, respectively, of undisclosed causes. Other plaintiffs have dementia and other illnesses, the lawsuit said.

In September, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City dismissed several of the lawsuits, including some it said were filed too late. The court upheld 2018 rulings by federal judge Vanessa Bryant in Connecticut, who said there was no evidence the WWE knew concussions or head blows during wrestling matches caused CTE.

The lawyer for the former wrestlers, Konstantine Kyros, based in Hingham, Massachusetts, criticized the rulings and said the former wrestlers have been “deprived of their fundamental rights as US Citizens, including their right to appeal.”

Kyros said the 2nd Circuit court rejected earlier appeals because final rulings had not been made in all the lawsuits. After Bryant made those final rulings in 2018, Kyros refiled appeals in several of the lawsuits that are now before the Supreme Court. But he said the 2nd Circuit rejected those appeals, saying they were filed too late according to a new precedent set by the Supreme Court.

Jerry McDevitt, a lawyer for the WWE, said he did not think the attempt to revive the five wrestlers' lawsuits will succeed.

In her 2018 ruling, Bryant also criticized Kyros for repeatedly failing to comply with court rules and orders and ordered him to pay WWE’s legal fees — more than $500,000.

Unlike football and hockey, in which players have suffered similar injuries, WWE matches involve moves scripted and choreographed by the WWE, thus making the company directly responsible for wrestlers’ injuries, the lawsuits said.

The National Football League and National Hockey League were also sued by former players who suffered concussions and other head injuries. The NFL settled for $1 billion, while the NHL settled for $18.9 million.

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This story has been corrected to show the request to the Supreme Court involves lawsuits filed by five former wrestlers, not all the wrestlers who sued the WWE.