(Updated with comment from the WWE) The widow of a World Wrestling Entertainment performer who died in 1999 filed this lawsuit in US District Court against the Stamford-based company and its former CEO Linda McMahon, who stepped down in 2009 to run for U.S. Senate.
The lawsuit filed by Martha Hart alleges that the WWE and both Vince and Linda McMahon used Owen Hart’s name and likeness without the right in dozens of commercial videos and other materials, some published as recently as April 2010. Hart claims this violates the terms of an $18 million settlement made with the WWE back in 2000.
Hart, 34, died when he fell 80-feet from a harness as it lowered him to a wrestling ring in Kansas City on May 23, 1999 with 16,500 spectators watching.
The lawsuit claims the WWE and the McMahon’s “insisted that Owen perform the stunt despite knowing he was uncomfortable with such extreme heights and the manner he was to descend and hired grossly inadequate personnel and equipment to enhance the stunt’s theatrical effect. Defendants have never once apologized to Martha or Owen’s and her children for their role in causing Owen’s death.”
“In the eleven years since Owen’s tragic and avoidable death, I have worked tirelessly to disassociate Owen’s name and likeness from anything related to WWE in order to protect our children from any reminder of the circumstances surrounding their father’s death, and to avoid any misplaced perception that I endorse WWE,” said Hart in a statement. “Given this callous, insensitive and irresponsible behavior, one must question the moral character of Vince and Linda McMahon and the manner in which they conduct their business.”
The lawsuit seeks to enjoin the WWE from further use of Owen Hart’s name and likeness, and seeks unpaid royalties as well as damages for breach of contract, copyright infringement, unjust enrichment, accounting and unfair and deceptive trade practices.
Hart is represented by the law firm of Nixon Peabody.
Jerry McDevitt, a lawyer who has been representing the WWE against Hart’s allegations for the past decade, said Tuesday’s lawsuit “reeks of political overtones.”
McDevitt said Hart filed an injunction against the WWE in Canada back in March to prevent the release of “Hart & Soul: The Hart Family Anthology,” released by the WWE in April of this year. He said Hart lost that lawsuit and was forced to the WWE’s legal fees.
He called Tuesday’s lawsuit a “meritless” and “routine garden variety intellectual property lawsuit.”