PWInsider - WWE News, Wrestling News, WWE

 
 

COMPLETE DETAILS ON WHY AND HOW WWE WAS VICTORIOUS TODAY IN ALL THE CONCUSSION-RELATED LAWSUITS

By Mike Johnson on 2018-09-17 17:11:00

As noted earlier today on PWInsider.com, World Wrestling Entertainment scored a major victory in regard to the lawsuits that have been brought against the company over the last several years by dozens of former WWWF/ WWF/WWE performers regarding WWE's alleged lack of protection when it came to performers in regard to their health, specifically concussions, CTE and other head-trauma related injuries.

In a 39-page ruling issued today, Judge Vanessa L. Bryant of the United States District Court of Connecticut officially dismissed all lawsuits against WWE, which means that all existing lawsuits against the company regarding those allegations are done.

There had been three major lawsuits involved in actions, aspects of which were covered in today's dismissal ruling.

One was the original lawsuit, of which all claims against all plaintiffs had been dismissed with the exception of one claim brought by Vito LoGrasso and Evan Singleton.  That final claim was later dismissed and leading up to today, the court is overseeing WWE and the lead attorney Konstantine Kyros  (who has been personally spearheading the legal actions against WWE) as they squabble over money WWE is seeking reimbursement from in regard to that action.  So, this case had effectively been closed with the exception of the reimbursements.

The second lawsuit was one WWE brought against against Blackjack Mulligan, Dynamite Kid, Ivan Koloff and Koko B. Ware seeking to block their attempts at suing the company, claiming they were time-barred in the State of Connecticut to now bring those claims. 

The third was the lawsuit brought about by 53 plaintiffs, with the lead plaintiff being Joe "Road Warrior Animal" Laurinaitis.   How the Laurinaitis lawsuit was handled by Kyros was, according to Judge Bryant, a major factor surrounding the lawsuits being dismissed today.  

In September 2017, Judge Bryant had warned Kyros and his clients they were being given 35 days to file amended pleadings against the WWE, under the threat that failure to do so (and/or failure to adhere to the court's instructions) would lead to a WWE victory in court.    That was ordered because, as Bryant wrote in 2017, "Laurinaitis Plaintiffs’ claims are so amorphous that the WWE and McMahon would be at a loss to determine how to defend against them."

The court specifically noted at the time that despite having a paragraph about each Plaintiff in the complaint, the attorneys had failed to specify exactly what claims each specific client was bringing against WWE.

The court ordered that within 35 days, that each of the Plaintiffs shall submit for affidavits that are filmed on camera where they are sworn in, under penalty of perjury and provide the facts regarding their "knowledge" that forms the basis of each their claims, including the dates they wrestled for WWE or any affiliates, including the first and last date with the company, if they wrestled for more than one "person or entity" (meaning promoter or company, which would certainly describe the vast majority of every professional wrestler ever), whether they ever signed "any agreement or other document in connection with their engagement to wrestle by or for WWE or any of its agents or affiliates", "whether they were ever or are now in possession of any document relating to their engagement to wrestle by or for WWE or any of its agents or affiliates, including without limitation W-4s, W-2s or 1099s."

The court also specifically requested that each Plaintiff be asked what specific WWE employees or agents said or did that forms the basis of each and every one of the claims against WWE including a reference to the specific paragraph of the complaint,  when and where such act occurred or such statement was made, the identities of any and all the persons present at the time of the act or statement, and "any and all other facts personally known to the affiant that form the basis of their belief that WWE or any or its agents or affiliates knew or should have known that wrestling caused any traumatic brain injuries, including CTE.

Judge Bryant noted at the time, "The Court assumes that Attorney Kyros had a good faith belief that the allegations in the Laurinaitis complaint and Windham answer were true based on interviews with his clients, in which each revealed information about his or her relationship with WWE. Counsel should therefore have no difficulty producing these affidavits within 35 days."

Bryant had warned that if the Plaintiffs failed to comply, she would dismiss the lawsuits against WWE with prejudice (which would prevent any of the current plaintiffs from filing new lawsuits down the line), potentially sanction Kyros (including ruling that the Plaintiffs' side could be responsible for attorney's fees) and rule in WWE's favor on the lawsuit the company had filed to stop Dynamite Kid and that group from bringing action against WWE.

All of that led to today, with Bryant ruling that a November 2017 amended pleading by the plaintiffs in the lawsuit led by Laurinaitis, including the court requested on camera review affidavits "did not comply with the Order and that declaratory judgment, dismissal, and sanctions are warranted."  

It was also ruled that many of the claims brought against WWE in the Laurinaitis lawsuit were time-barred in the State of Connecticut, given that none of the Plaintiffs had worked for WWE past 2011 and many had not worked for the company well prior to that.

Bryant specifically mentioned that the estates of five wrestlers - Axl Rotten, Balls Mahoney, Timothy Well, Ron Bass, Jimmy Snuka, and Mr. Fuji asserted wrongful death and survival claims against WWE, but CT law requires for those claims to come within one year of death and no more than five years following the action that led to those claims.  With the exception of Snuka, none of those talents fell within the parameters and based on the testimony of Snuka's estate, it was ruled that he was "semi-retired" and "inactive" during later appearances for WWE and that it was never alleged he suffered a head injury in those appearances, so all of those claims were dismissed as being time-barred.

In regard to allegations that WWE performers had been misclassified as independent contractors, Bryant again nodded to CT law, pointing out that they were time-barred from making those claims, as were any attempts to allege that WWE's handling of the situation would fall under RICO act violations.

Since the decision was made that many of the claims were time-barred, the court declined to rule whether WWE would have been responsible for acts that took place in ECW and WCW, which WWE now own.

The court also ruled,that, "Plaintiffs have not established that WWE had any continuing duty with respect to their health or their employment status after they left WWE. For example, Plaintiffs allege that WWE “sends substance dependency letters annually to its former performers offering free treatment, as well as community updates and quarterly royalty payments” and maintains a “Talent helpline.”   It is reasonable to infer, based on WWE’s offer to provide substance abuse treatment, that the hotline is related to substance abuse prevention or treatment. It is not reasonable to conclude from the allegations in the complaint that WWE has a continuing duty to keep itself apprised of former wrestlers’ health or to provide comprehensive health care to these wrestlers. It is similarly unreasonable to infer that retired wrestlers would not seek medical treatment from sources outside of WWE after their retirement.  Indeed, Plaintiffs do not allege that WWE purported to be their primary health care provider, or that WWE diagnosed, treated, monitored, or advised the Plaintiffs regarding their health,including their mental health, after they retired. Similarly, the Court is at a loss to imagine how continuing royalty payments give rise to any duty to the Plaintiffs regarding their alleged misclassification as independent contractors decades earlier."

The Court also ruled that there has been no argument proving that WWE was aware of CTE prior to 2007 and noted, "The Court is also unwilling to find that the diagnosis of one wrestler with CTE is sufficient to imbue WWE with actual awareness of a probable link between wrestling and CTE. Further, counsel lacks a good faith basis for asserting that Plaintiffs who retired after 2007 could not on their own, in the exercise of due diligence, uncover information timely about CTE or the risks that concussions or subconcussive blows could cause CTE. For example, 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. This information was widely available in public news sources, such that WWE did not have superior access to it, and could not have thwarted any attempted investigation. Tolling on the basis of fraudulent concealment is therefore baseless."

Judge Bryant also ruled the Laurinaitis suit was dismissed with prejudice, which means none of the plaintiffs would ever be able to bring forth similar allegations against WWE legally.  With that entire lawsuit was dismissed, that was WWE victory number one today. .

WWE Victory number two was Bryant ruling for WWE and against the collection of talent that featured Koko B. Ware and The Dynamite Kid.  Bryant explained that after reviewing their most recent pleading, she was dismissing all of the deceased defendants (Ivan Koloff, Blackjack Mulligan) as no one had established that their estates were not taking their place and no one had established to the court that they had passed away, so they were being removed.  

Bryant then declared that the testimonies from Dynamite and Ware, including Dynamite testifying that he was unable to purchase health insurance and Ware discussing a "snapped collarbone" had little to do with the case at hand and that there was nothing in the wrestlers' accounts that gave credence to claims that WWE had concealed knowledge of CTE back when these talents were active with the company - nor did they raise any legitimate claims that would shoot down that WWE's arguments that bringing forth their claims now was not allowed under CT law due to time having run out.  

So, this third lawsuit is now dismissed, with Bryant clearly ruling in WWE's favor.  This ruling, as well, was with prejudice, which means none of the talents (or their estates) could come back after WWE legally.
.
WWE had previously pushed for sanctions against Kyros and other attorneys involved, claiming that they plagiarized some of the allegations against WWE from a NFL-concussion lawsuit, that an amended complaint against the company included facts that had already been proven false over the course of discovery, that the complaint falsely claimed that WWE was aware of the effects of concussion-related disease such as CTE for decades, that WWE and Dr. Joseph Maroon (who oversees the Wellness Policy) have shot down claims and studies that several football players had been diagnosed with CTE, that WWE requested to examine the results and research on Chris Benoit's brain, that WWE hid their knowledge of the dangers of CTE and other concussive effects from their performers, and dozens of other points that WWE took issue with, ranging from how pro wrestling was presented and scripted to how long Maroon had been working with the company.

In her ruling today, Bryant again took specific aim at Kyros, writing that the his "repeated failures to comply with the clear, and unambiguous provisions of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and this Court’s repeated instructions and admonitions, which has resulted in a considerable waste of the Court’s and the Defendants’ time and resources."

Bryant pointed out that Kyros had filed multiple lawsuits in different jurisdictions and had even after Bryant was assigned to the case, a new lawsuit was filed in the same Connecticut district, assigned to a different judge and that Kyros had attempted to prevent it from being brought under her rule.

Bryant also noted, "The complaints in the initial actions consolidated before this Court were nearly identical. They were exceedingly long and consisted of paragraphs asserting generalities, legal conclusions and facts unrelated to the plaintiffs’ claims."  

Bryant pointed out that one lawsuit featured language from a similar lawsuit filed against the NFL, right down to football player Mike Webster being listed as a professional wrestler in the WWE lawsuit, when in fact he had never been involved with professional wrestling.  One of the suits also listed plaintiffs that were deceased when, in 2014 when it was filed, they were very much alive.  Still another of the suits featured 19 plaintiffs who had actually executed contractual agreements with WWE that would have prevented them from filing such a lawsuit over the alleged claims.

The court also repeated past statements regarding Kyros, noting that despite previous instructions from the court, the Plaintiffs had previously filed a complaint "with paragraphs that includes numerous allegations that a reasonable attorney would know are inaccurate, irrelevant, or frivolous", including filing a 2015 study on CTE to the court (despite the fact that none of Kyros' clients would have been performing during that time period), quoting a book from a wrestler (I believe Chris Nowinski) who was not party to the case and bringing up allegations that a female performer had been told "not to report a sexual assault she endured while on a WWE tour despite the fact that this has no relevance to her claims about neurological injuries or the enforceability of her booking contract", among other instances. 

The court had previously also singled out that Kyros had used a fictional post-concussion storyline (Shawn Michaels vs. Owen Hart from 1996) as proof that WWE was aware of the dangers of concussions and CTE, which of course, had not been discovered until a decade later.

In Today's ruling, Judge Bryant commented, "Attorney Kyros’ decision to assert frivolous claims has required the Court to waste considerable judicial resources sifting through three unreasonably long complaints filed in the Laurinaitis action, with the vague hope that some claim, buried within a mountain of extraneous information, might have merit."

Bryant continued, "The Court has been extremely forgiving of Attorney Kyros’ and his appearing co-counsels’ highly questionable practices throughout this case, in an effort to give each wrestler a fair hearing. However, despite second, third, and fourth chances to submit pleadings that comply with Rules 8, 9, and 11, Attorney Kyros has persisted in asserting pages and pages of frivolous claims and allegations for which he lacked any factual basis. He was warned that if he continued to do so this case would be dismissed, and he ignored this warning. Attorney Kyros has offered the Court no reason to believe that if given a fifth,sixth, or seventh chance, he would prosecute this case in a manner consistent with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Accordingly, the Court finds that further amendment would be futile and that only the award of attorney’s fees and costs would deter Attorney Kyros from committing future violations of Rule 11. Attorney Kyros and his Law Offices shall pay all of the legal fees that the Defendants reasonably incurred in connection with both of their Motions for Sanctions. All fees paid pursuant to this order are to be paid by the law firm and not by the client. Further, in order to protect the public, Attorney Kyros is ordered to send by a receipted mail delivery service a copy of this ruling to his appearing co-counsel and to each of the Laurinaitis Plaintiffs and any other future, current, or former WWE wrestler who has retained or in the future does retain his legal services to file suit against WWE alleging an injury sustained during their wrestling contract with WWE."

The court ruled that Kyros is free to attempt to get the other attorneys involved in the case to assist in paying the Defendant's (WWE) legal fees regarding their motions in regard to sanctioning Kyros.

So, that means a clean sweep for WWE in regard to all concussion-related lawsuits brought against the company over the last several years. 
 

If you enjoy PWInsider.com you can check out the AD-FREE PWInsider Elite section, which features exclusive audio updates, news, our critically acclaimed podcasts, interviews and more, right now for THREE DAYS free by clicking here!