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WWE Wrestlers’ Brain Damage Lawsuit Dismissed by Appeals Court

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A 2nd Circuit appellate panel dismissed a group of lawsuits filed by 50 former pro wrestlers claiming World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (WWE) was negligent in protecting them from severe head injuries. The decision, announced Wednesday by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City, was in agreement with a Connecticut federal judge’s two-year-old ruling to toss the lawsuits. Both cited the wrestlers’ failure to act in a timely manner relative to a U.S. Supreme Court 2018 decision on timeliness in consolidated cases.

That Supreme Court decision on consolidated cases – Hall v. Hall – held that a final judgment in one case may be appealed immediately (despite final judgments not having been entered in each of the other cases within the group). The 2nd Circuit considered Hall v. Hall in their Wednesday decision, saying it ultimately renders the notices of appeal in four of the cases untimely.

Among the consolidated cases were three class actions brought by groups of wrestlers including Russ McCullough, William Albert Haynes III, and Evan Singleton, as well as a wrongful death suit brought by the estate of Nelson Lee Frazier Jr. The 2nd Circuit previously dismissed without prejudice appeals brought in the Haynes and McCullough cases under the pre-Hall precedent that final judgments in consolidated lawsuits must be entered prior to any of the cases being appealed.

“Following the decision in Hall, neither the appellants in Haynes and McCullough, nor any plaintiff in Singleton or Frazier sought relief from this court or in the district court,” the three-judge panel said Wednesday. “This inaction was fatal.”

The former wrestlers, many stars in the 1980s and 1990s, alleged the WWE failed to protect them from repeated head injuries, including severe concussions that resulted in long-term brain damage. The complaint also named WWE chairman Vince McMahon as a defendant. WWE, headquartered in Stamford, Connecticuit, has denied all allegations.

Additional plaintiffs included Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, Joseph “Road Warrior Animal” Laurinaitis, Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff, Chris “King Kong Bundy” Pallies, and Harry Masayoshi Fujiwara, known as Mr. Fuji.

ESPN reported that Snuka and Fujiwara died in 2017 and 2016, respectively, and, according to their lawyer, were diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) after their deaths. Pallies died last year of undisclosed causes. The complaint alleges several plaintiffs have dementia and various other serious illnesses.

The panel also affirmed the dismissal of the remaining appealed case, which was brought by a group of wrestlers that included Joe Laurinaitis. U.S. District Judge Vanessa L. Bryant had previously ruled that the wrestlers’ claims in that case were unsubstantiated because they had stopped wrestling long before being able to establish the WWE knew of the risks related to brain trauma.

Konstantine Kyros, an attorney representing the former wrestlers based in Hingham, Massachusetts, called the ruling a “rubber stamp” of Bryant’s decision and “utterly devoid of any original reasoning or engagement with the legal issues raised in the wrestlers’ appeal.”

“In its conclusory assertions the injured wrestlers find no justice having been literally denied a day in court,” Kyros wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “Per this mandate wrestlers have no rights, no rights to bring a lawsuit, no rights to help from WWE for CTE & head injuries, no rights as misclassified employees, no rights to a jury, and ironically no right to even appeal!”

Circuit Judges Barrington D. Parker, Michael H. Park, and William J. Nardini served on the Second Circuit panel.