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Verrill Dana, LLP

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WWE “Wrestles” with the Question of Whether Road Warrior Animal was an Employee or Independent Contractor

The issue of Independent Contractor versus Employee has reared its ugly head once again, this time in the context of professional wrestling. A Connecticut lawsuit filed on behalf of retired wrestlers is seeking damages from World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. for head injuries, alleged to have been sustained in the course of their “employment” as professional wrestlers. Among the many employment-related claims raised by the wrestlers is the claim that they were misclassified as independent contractors when they were, in fact, employees. As a result of the independent contractor classification, workers’ compensation benefits were not provided to the wrestlers. Additionally, the Complaint alleges that wrestlers were not provided with health insurance, and were largely limited to the medical treatment provided by WWE medical staff. The group of former wrestlers allege that they suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative brain disease highlighted in the recent film “Concussion”. They are seeking compensatory and punitive damages among other remedies. Two similar lawsuits have been thrown out by Courts in recent years and it is not clear how the living Plaintiffs have determined that they suffer from CTE, since that condition is generally only able to be diagnosed by autopsy. Since an employment contract will not necessarily guarantee the existence of independent contractor status, the Court may well have to at least determine that threshold issue, if Plaintiffs are found to have standing to sue. For more details, read the 214 page complaint, Laurinaitis et. al v. World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., et al., Case 3-16-cv-01209.

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