By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) - World Wrestling Entertainment Inc <WWE.N> was sued on Monday by Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka and dozens of other retired male and female wrestlers seeking to hold it responsible for neurological injuries they claimed to suffer by participating in its bouts.
The complaint was filed on behalf of more than 50 plaintiffs who have performed with WWE or its predecessors since the 1970s, including Joseph "Road Warrior Animal" Laurinaitis and Paul "Mr. Wonderful" Orndorff.
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It accused Stamford, Connecticut-based WWE and Chairman Vince McMahon of intentionally classifying wrestlers as "independent contractors" rather than employees, as a means to avoid liability under applicable worker protection laws.
"WWE placed corporate gain over its wrestlers' health, safety, and financial security, choosing to leave the plaintiffs severely injured and with no recourse to treat their damaged minds and bodies," the complaint said.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as improved medical monitoring.
WWE, in a statement, called the lawsuit another attempt to hold it liable by a lawyer who had two earlier lawsuits dismissed and added that "we're confident this lawsuit will suffer the same fate".
WWE has won the dismissal of some claims in other lawsuits accusing it of hiding the risks of head trauma from wrestling.
The National Football League and National Hockey League have also been sued by retired players over head injuries.
Monday's complaint was filed with the federal court in New Haven, Connecticut.
The plaintiffs accused WWE of concealing the risks of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy and other traumatic brain injuries attributable to wrestling, including through "scripted" moves it choreographed.
Konstantine Kyros, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, in an email said WWE's "exploitative business model" kept his clients from learning their rights under laws such as the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act.
According to the complaint, Laurinaitis, 55; Snuka, 72; and Orndorff, 66, suffer from cognitive difficulties including headaches, dizziness and memory loss, while Snuka and Orndorff also experience confusion, depression and mood swings.
The plaintiffs also include former referees and identical twins Earl and Dave Hebner, 66, who according the complaint have experienced cognitive difficulties. Dave Hebner has also been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, the complaint said.
The case is Laurinaitis et al v. World Wrestling Entertainment Inc et al, U.S. District Court, District of Connecticut, No. 16-01209.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Alan Crosby, Bernard Orr)