WWE Faces Wrongful Death Suit for Alleged Concealment of Risks Associated with Concussions
Memphis, Tennessee is the most recent arena in which the WWE is defending itself against concussion-related claims brought by former professional wrestlers. On February 18, 2015, the widow of deceased wrestler Nelson Lee Frazier, Jr. (a/k/a “Viscera”, “King Mabel,” and “Big Daddy”) brought a wrongful death claim against the WWE for its alleged willful and purposeful concealment of the risks associated with multiple concussive events. Like others that have been filed against the WWE in recent months, the lawsuit highlights the history of significant head trauma suffered by former WWE wrestlers and the WWE’s alleged practice of intentionally concealing and misrepresenting the true quality and dangers of the injuries in order to profit commercially. The lawsuit specifically alleges that “[t]he WWE [was] . . . obsessed with the size of [Frazier] and repeatedly glorified and utilized [his 500 pound] weight against sound medical advice for the sole purpose of corporate profit and greed.” The lawsuit further avers that the WWE’s intentional and negligent misconduct proximately caused Frazier to sustain significant injuries that ultimately contributed to and led to his untimely death.
In response, the WWE has moved to transfer the case to the Eastern District of Connecticut pursuant to a number of forum selection clauses in Frazier’s booking contracts with the WWE. The WWE contends that these contracts contain mandatory forum selection clauses that require the parties to litigate “all disputes” arising out of or relating to the booking agreements in Connecticut federal court. In its motion (which remains pending before the court), the WWE also references several other provisions that could be relevant in the litigation, including a contractual term that would arguably release the WWE from any liability for the purported injuries at issue and/or preclude the plaintiff’s ability to recover punitive damages against the WWE. In further support of its attempt to exit federal court in Memphis (a city with a deep tradition in professional wrestling), the motion also discusses the WWE’s purported lack of contacts with the State of Tennessee, an allegation that must upset the likes of Jerry Lawler.
Though class certification is not sought presently, the allegations at issue in this lawsuit (and others that have been filed by former wrestlers against the WWE in recent months) are similar to the allegations brought against the NFL for concussion-related injuries sustained by its former players.