The story of permanently injured professional wrestlers is similar to the football players who have been suing their organizations for not doing more to prevent and treat concussions. As medical knowledge improves and athletes come forward, it’s bringing to light the lifelong damage that can be caused by participating in these intense contact sports.
It’s not surprising that professional wrestlers suffer permanent injury after what they’re put through. As the lawsuit describes, the stunts are extreme. The two former WWE wrestlers who filed this most recent lawsuit allege injuries that include severe headaches, memory loss, anxiety, depression, deafness, tremors, and convulsions.
When I read about this lawsuit, I wondered why they weren’t filing claims for workers’ compensation. They could get all the medical care they need, plus compensation for having permanent injuries. And they wouldn’t have to prove that the WWE was at fault. When you make a claim for a work injury, fault is irrelevant.
Workers’ compensation is only for employees, and I’m sure these wrestlers are labeled “independent contractors.” But just because they are called that doesn’t mean they are. In fact, I’m pretty sure they would be considered employees under the law. The law decides, not the employer. The key consideration is how much control the employer has over the employee. The WWE clearly has a right of control over its wrestlers. I’m sure the WWE dictates schedules, performance, etc. It’s probably a very carefully orchestrated job.
A workers’ compensation claim would get these wrestlers the medical care they need much more quickly, and they wouldn’t have to go through a civil trial to get it. It wouldn’t be as flashy, and if the allegations are true – that the organization deliberately increased violence of its matches in order to make millions and deceived its wrestlers about the consequences – then perhaps a large class-action lawsuit is the right way to go.
But from a practical standpoint, and thinking about these wrestlers as individuals who have extensive injuries, workers’ compensation is the path of least resistance. They can get their medical treatment covered, as well as payment for the negative (and permanent) effects of their jobs. And it will happen more quickly. I suspect their lawyers would disagree, based on the fee they’re looking at if the lawsuit is eventually successful. But if they are looking out for the best interests of their clients, especially if they were injured in Illinois, they would tell them to pursue workers comp too.