More than 50 former WWE wrestlers have filed for legal action against the dominant sports entertainment company for breeches of liability as they claim the company did nothing to protect them from brain damage caused during their tenure.
Not a stranger to controversy, World Wrestling Entertainment became mainstream television in the late 90’s thanks to what is known as the “attitude era” involving adult storylines, blood, weapons, sex appeal and an anti establishment attitude in it’s delivery of programming. While this won many viewers in a time when ratings were the most important factor in producing a show, the evolution of advertising revenue and sponsors heavily impacted the show’s production.
During the late 2000’s the emphasis switched to a more family friendly product as the company phased out aspects such as intentional bleeding, partial female nudity and blows to the head from weapons. This was a two part response, firstly to appease sponsors who wanted a PG show aimed to promote wrestling to children and families. This certainly worked as for the last 15 years, arguably the company’s most famous worker, John Cena has become a global brand in himself, popular with children and parents, dominating merchandise sales and driving revenue for WWE. The second reason was to prevent any lasting injuries to performers following a string of wrestlers developing brain injuries and suffering from a myriad of mental health problems as a result.
That change in however may have come too late for a generation of employees who didn’t have the same levels of protection or correct, humane procedures in place back in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s where blood letting, dangerous manoeuvres and a blasé attitude to injuries and head trauma were seemingly rampant.
Moves like the piledriver were banned due to their potential danger as seen here when fan favourite Stone Cold Steve Austin broke his neck
Independent contractors or employees?
The injury reportedly suffered by the claimant’s is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE for short). This Alzheimer’s like disease begins with a build-up of a protein labelled tau. The build-up begins to affect the brain’s judgement and can cause paranoia, aggression, depression and dementia. While the injury is serious and can be traced to continual, untreated head trauma from the working lives of the sports entertainers; the problem faced by their solicitors is whether the workers were classified as independent contractors or employees of WWE.
WWE representatives have rubbished the claims under the defence that during their tenure with the company, they were classed as independent contractors, external to the operations of the business and so were responsible for their own health and wellbeing. To launch a successful defence, those taking legal action would need to prove that the WWE was their direct employer and owed a duty of care to provide adequate safeguards to them. Any company owes a duty of care to its employees to keep them safe but the waters begin to muddy when contractors and sub contractors enter proceedings as the chain of liability tends to move away from the main employer towards those in charge of the contractors, in this case, the wrestlers managing themselves.
Blows to the head using objects like chairs have been banned as a precaution against head injuries
The case is likely to be lengthy given the size of the WWE and the number of individuals taking legal action (53 in total). At this stage it was said that the wrestlers are “unlikely to be successful” in the claim but could see a settlement from the WWE once the case has been taken to court.
Does the WWE owe them a duty of care to protect them from blows to the head or were they acting of their own volition? Scott Rees & Co Solicitors have fought on the side of independent contractors before and seen compensation paid out as ignorance of an issue of safety can be just as dangerous as committing the fault. Should the judge agree that safeguards should have been put in place, then the case could open up he option for more of those affected to take further legal action.
If you have faced any negligent action from your employer whether that be true negligence or even ignorance to a danger then call Scott Rees & Co for free, impartial, hassle free and confidential advice from one of our team. Lines are open weekdays from 8am to 7pm on 0808 278 4672 or visit our claim page today; you can even request a callback at a time suitable for you.
1. Wikipedia, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4b/Chairshot.jpg