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Brain Injury Lawsuit Targets the Obvious: Professional Wrestling

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Portland, ORWith two weeks and counting to the Super Bowl, and with the NFL concussion settlement on the plus side of $870 million still fresh in our minds, comes word of a brain injury lawsuit from a fairly obvious genre of professional sport.

In late October of last year, former professional wrestler Billy Jack Haynes of Oregon filed a multimillion-dollar class-action lawsuit against World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (WWE), alleging the defendants knowingly subject wrestlers to the dangers of potential concussions and traumatic brain injury, without taking any precautions to help protect professional wrestlers from harm.

According to the Portland Business Journal (11/6/14), WWE issued a statement indicating that in its view the lawsuit is without merit. As the result of a recent judicial extension, WWE has until January 30 to respond to the allegations. Based in Stamford, Connecticut, WWE reported revenue of $508 million in 2013.

Billy Jack Haynes is the stage name for William Albert Haynes III, the Portland resident who is serving as lead plaintiff in the class-action brain trauma lawsuit against WWE.

“Under the guise of providing ‘entertainment,’ WWE has, for decades, subjected its wrestlers to extreme physical brutality that it knew, or should have known, caused long-term irreversible bodily damage, including brain damage,” the lawsuit alleges, according to court documents.
“For most of its history, WWE has engaged in a campaign of misinformation and deception to prevent its wrestlers from understanding the true nature and consequences of the injuries they have sustained.”

Much has been written the last few years about brain injury, including brain swelling that can stem from repeated blows to the head. Professional sports have been centered out in recent times - especially professional football and hockey. Plaintiffs have asserted that the professional leagues such as the National Football League (NFL) and National Hockey League (NHL) did little to stem the tough-guy culture that permeated locker rooms - to wit, an injured player dizzy from a hit to the head, who gets right back out there and back into the game, has until recently been interpreted as a sign of strength and endurance. Leagues have been accused of doing little to dissuade that mentality.

The world of wrestling has not seen the kind of litigation other professional sports have been exposed to - which is somewhat curious given the brute physicality involved in the sport of wrestling, and the injuries that have resulted. Haynes’ brain injury lawyer references the murder-suicide story of former Canadian professional wrestler Chris Benoit, who murdered his wife and young son before taking his own life in 2007. An examination of his brain post-mortem revealed that Benoit’s brain appeared akin to that of “an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient,” Haynes’ brain injury attorney noted in the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs are seeking damages through trial. The case is William Albert Haynes III et al v. World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., Case No. 3:14-cv-01689-ST, in US District Court for the District of Oregon. The brain injury lawsuit was filed October 23 of last year.


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