Three years ago, I argued that WWE should be very fearful of the class action lawsuit filed against the NFL by 75 retired football players alleging that the sports league had concealed from their athletes the long term health risks of concussive blows to the head. The terms of a settlement to the lawsuit are still being hashed out, but will cost the NFL in excess of $765 million.
The reason why WWE should have been worried was that up to the summer of 2011 their lawyer Jerry McDevitt had routinely discredited the research of Dr. Bennet Omalu, who had conducted an autopsy of Chris Benoit's brain at the time of his death and concluded that he had been suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease thought to be caused by repetitive brain trauma.
Moreover, Stephanie McMahon even went so far to claim that she was not aware of any incidents where a wrestler in a match received a concussion when she was interviewed by Congressional representatives of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Dec. 14th, 2007. This was an incredulous statement when she was reported to have rushed to the ring to check on Chavo Guerrero after he was knocked out unconscious for several minutes when Billy Kidman botched his shooting star press finisher just a few years prior.
At the time I believed it was inevitable that one day a similar concussion lawsuit would also be filed against WWE. Well, now that day has passed, as according to the Portland Tribune, former WWE wrestler Billy Jack Haynes is suing the company for "egregious mistreatment of its wrestlers for its own benefit, as well as its concealment and denial of medical research and evidence concerning traumatic brain injuries suffered by WWE wrestlers", and is asking the court to grant class-action status to the lawsuit to cover all the people who have suffered injuries whilst performing for WWE.
It's important to note that the lawsuit argues that even if WWE did not know that the "extreme physical brutality" they subjected its performers to "caused long-term irreversible bodily damage", then they should have known, which is important in Haynes' case, as the research into CTE came long after he retired as a wrestler.
The medical problems Haynes has suffered from both during and after his wrestling career are numerous: at least 15 concussions, which has led to depression and symptoms of dementia; contracting Hepatitis C; and in March 2013 he was hospitalised with an aortic aneurysm, and liver and kidney issues.
The goal of Haynes' lawsuit is to force WWE to establish "a trust fund, in an amount to be determined, to pay for the medical monitoring of all wrestlers subjected to checks and hits, as frequently as determined to be medically necessary, as well as to pay to develop and research other methods by which the risk of those affected can be reduced."
In response to the lawsuit, WWE officials told the Portland Tribune that it did not take into account that the company has been "well ahead of sports organizations in implementing concussion management procedures and policies as a precautionary measure as the science and research on this issue emerged." They also released the following official statement on the matter:
"Billy Jack Haynes performed for WWE from 1986-1988. His filed lawsuit alleges that WWE concealed medical information and evidence on concussions during that time, which is impossible since the condition now called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) had not even been discovered. WWE was well ahead of sports organizations in implementing concussion management procedures and policies as a precautionary measure as the science and research on this issue emerged. Current WWE procedures include ImPACT testing for brain function, annual educational seminars and the strict prohibition of deliberate and direct shots to the head. Additionally, WWE has committed significant funding for concussion research conducted by the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI), leaders in concussion research, and WWE Executive Vice President Paul Levesque sits on SLI's board."
WWE is right, Haynes' case as an individual is not a strong one, so if the lawsuit were to be successful, then it would require many other wrestlers to join the litigation, which is unlikely, as even retired wrestlers would be reluctant to burn bridges with the company.
However, I hope people don't attack the overall merits of the idea of a class action lawsuit against WWE based on the individual who brought it against the company. In an RF Video shoot interview in 2009, Haynes came up with a completely batshit insane conspiracy theory for the Chris Benoit double murder suicide. He claimed that Daniel Benoit was actually Vince McMahon's son and the discovery of this betrayal caused Chris to go off the deep end. But are such crazy ravings a symptom of the brain trauma he now seeks to prevent in future generations of WWE wrestlers?