Former wrestler files lawsuit against WWE regarding head injuries

October 27, 2014

A lawsuit filed last week in the U.S. District Court of Oregon by former professional wrestler William Albert Haynes III (aka “Billy Jack” Haynes) citing class action status related to “head injuries occurring in former and current WWE wrestlers” per the lawsuit.

Haynes wrestled in the WWE for only two years from 1986-1988.  Perhaps his most notable match was at Wrestlemania III.  Most of Haynes’ career was spent in the Pacific Northwest.

The lawsuit spells out the dangers of the professional wrestling business amplified by embedded photos in its lawsuit as well as YouTube links.  Essentially, WWE allowed its wrestlers to perform dangerous stunts, some of which include taking shots to the head causing head injuries.  The claim made by Haynes’ lawyers is that these head injuries cause traumatic brain injuries (i.e., concussions) and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (“CTE”).

photos of WWE wrestlers CM Punk and Rob Van Dam getting stitches after a match

photos of WWE wrestlers CM Punk and Rob Van Dam getting stitches after a match

Vince McMahon swinging a chair makes the case for Haynes that WWE allowed head shots.

Vince McMahon swinging a chair makes the case for Haynes that WWE allowed head shots.

A section of the lawsuit includes: “WWE is a Fake Sport with Real Consequences to Its Wrestlers.”  It also cites the numerous matches which include the use of chairs, chains, ladders and tables.  It also details different wrestling moves which involve potential trauma to the head including the “Brain Buster,” “Bulldog,” and “Facebreaker.”  They also bring up the case of a 13 year old that killed his 5 year old sister while performing a move he saw from the WWE.

Haynes vs. WWE

The lawsuit accuses the WWE of not protecting its wrestlers from brain damage.  Essentially, Haynes and his attorneys accuse the WWE of doing little, if anything, to protect its wrestlers.  It also claims to denying or concealing injuries of its wrestlers.

The claims in the lawsuit include:

-Fraudulent Concealment and Failure to Disclose or Warn

-Negligent Misrepresentation

-Declaratory and Injunctive Relief

-Negligence

-Medical Monitoring –this claim requests that the WWE establish a trust to pay for medical monitoring of all wrestlers as frequent as medically necessary and would pay to develop and research other methods to reduce risks

-Strict Liability for Abnormally Dangerous Activities

In addition to the requests under “Medical Monitoring,” it is requesting that the court grant it class action status and designating the attorneys as Class counsel.  It also is seeking actual, compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorney fees.

In response to the lawsuit, the WWE’s Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications provided a brief statement: “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 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 immerged.  Current WWE procedures include ImPACT testing for brain function, annual educational seminars and the strict prohibition of deliberate and direct shots to the head.” (H/t :  wrestling-online.com)

Payout Perspective:

I grew up watching Haynes wrestle in the Pacific Northwest mainly in a Portland, Oregon based promotion.  He had a very brief stint with the WWE.  This is a lawsuit that shall be interesting to follow and see whether or not the court grants Haynes class action status.  For those wondering, the essential elements a court determines when deciding whether or not a lawsuit may receive class action certification are:

-Commonality:  One or more legal or factual claims common to the entire class.

-Adequacy:  The parties in the class must adequately protect the interests of the class.

-Numerosity:  The class must be large enough that individual lawsuits would be impractical.

-Typicality:  The claims or defenses must be typical of the plaintiffs.

The four elements commonly are remembered (mainly by bar exam takers) as CANT.  It will be interesting to see whether or not the law firm can attain enough members willing to be a part of this lawsuit.  Certainly there are enough wrestlers out there that could establish a sufficient amount of plaintiffs.  However, how many are willing to come forward?  On his own, Haynes may not have a strong case considering he only spent two years with the company and much of his time wrestling was on the regional circuit where he could have been subjected to similar risks and injuries.  Thus, his case may not be as strong as someone who may have spent 20 years with the company.

This will be an interesting case that the UFC should take note of for future consideration.  While the ways that the participants attainhead trauma are different, there are still issues related to MMA fighter safety and blows to the head that might be a part of future legal claims.

4 Responses to “Former wrestler files lawsuit against WWE regarding head injuries”

  1. john_frederickson on October 27th, 2014 6:59 PM

    ABOUT TIME!!! First name that comes to mind is Chris Benoit!! Someone please test his brain…

  2. john_frederickson on October 27th, 2014 7:03 PM

    has anyone checked Chris Benoit for CTE ? someone needs to..

  3. john_frederickson on October 27th, 2014 7:08 PM

    googled it…Chris Benoit had his brian tested and he had severe, severe brian damage…Benoit’s 40 year old brain had more damage than an 90 year old’s brian….Chris’ father suggested that this could be the cause of the murder suicide…however, never filed a lawsuit….

  4. Jason Cruz on October 28th, 2014 9:37 AM

    @John – Thanks for check on the Benoit tests. I recall reports of this. It will be interesting to see how many former wrestlers will agree to come forward and/or test themselves. Certainly, we may be seeing the start of another NFL-type concussion litigation.

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