A lawsuit on behalf of former wrestlers seeks damages from World Wresting Entertainment Inc. for head injuries. The wrestlers allege they were misclassified as independent contractors, so workers’ comp benefits weren’t available to them.
The suit brought by Joseph Laurinaitis, aka Road Warrior Animal, and 52 other wrestlers seeks damages for medical monitoring, pain and suffering, among other claims, involving alleged “long-term neurological injuries.”
Many of the wrestlers say they suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative brain disease found in athletes and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including concussions and other blows to the head.
CTE made news recently in connection with professional football players who suffer from the condition.
The wrestlers say the WWE “placed corporate gain over its wrestlers’ health, safety and financial security.”
A statement from the WWE calls the claims “patently false” and “ridiculous.”
In 2006, the WWE established its Talent Wellness Program in part to guard against brain injuries in wrestlers. According to the WWE website:
“All WWE talent undergo tests of brain function, including memory, processing speed and reaction time. Monitoring and analysis are done through the ImPACT™ Concussion Management Program, which is used by the NFL, NHL, MLB, MLS, US Olympic Training Center and in more than 400 colleges and 2,000 high schools.”
Blows to the head were also eliminated in the WWE in 2006.
The wrestlers who’ve filed suit against the WWE say all of their head injuries happened before the TWP was created.
Classification is tricky
The question of whether workers are properly classified as company employees or independent contractors for workers’ comp purposes sometimes end up in court. Each state’s workers’ comp and employment laws differ regarding the definitions.
However, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners says a common question for determining whether a worker is an independent contractor is:
Does the hiring entity have the right to control or direct only the result of the work done by the worker, or does the hiring entity also control the means and methods of accomplishing the result?
When only the result is controlled, the worker may qualify as an independent contractor. When means and methods are controlled, it’s likely the worker will be considered a company employee.
Even having written contracts stating workers are independent contractors may not be enough to hold up in court, as previous cases have shown.
Part of the argument being made that the wrestlers were employees involves the “choreographed” nature of pro wrestling. The lawsuit states:
“WWE wrestling matches, unlike other contact sports, involve very specific moves that are scripted, controlled, directed and choreographed by WWE … as such the moves that resulted in named plaintiffs’ head injuries were the direct result of WWE’s action.”
A similar lawsuit against the WWE was thrown out. The latest suit is filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut.
The NFL, on the other hand, entered into a settlement with former players that could result in total payments of $1 billion.