Mixed martial arts supporters are seeking changes to a liability clause the legislature created last year when it legalized the sport, which puts organizers on the hook for the health care expenses of injured fighters.
Last year, the policy was viewed as a trade-off between supporters and opponents for permitting the popular but violent fighting sport. It makes anyone who hires an MMA fighter liable for the fighter’s health care costs relating to injuries sustained during the match.
Supporters say the law has discouraged promoters from hosting MMA events in Connecticut outside the state’s two tribal casinos where it has been permitted all along.
“As the legislation is written at this point the promoters have not been able to come to places like Bridgeport and the Hartford XL Center,” Sen. Andres Ayala said Tuesday. “What we’re hearing from promoters is that the language that was inserted requiring further insurance coverage makes it very difficult for them to come to Connecticut and put on these events.”
The Public Safety Committee is considering a bill that removes language specifying that organizers are liable for health care costs “for the duration of such injury, illness, disease or condition” and it adds language which calls for MMA to be treated and regulated like boxing and other fighting sports.
Ayala, a Bridgeport Democrat who pushed last year for the sport’s legalization, said the bill would put Connecticut policies more in line with the other 48 states that permit mixed martial arts.
However, Senate President Donald Williams, a longtime opponent of mixed martial arts, urged the committee to reject the new bill and stick with the existing law, which he saw passed last year as the sport was being legalized. In written testimony, Williams said the bill was an attempt by MMA organizers to duck their responsibilities.
“The corporations that reap significant profits from mixed martial arts know that it is an inherently dangerous sport and they have sought to minimize and avoid liability — even when they are negligent — through contract law. It is our obligation as legislators to provide balance,” he said.
Given the nature of the sport, Williams said injuries are a certainty.
“In mixed martial arts, the question of injuries is not whether they will occur, but when they will occur and how severe they will be,” he said. “. . . There is one reason and one reason only as to why the MMA corporations object — they do not want to be responsible for the full costs of injuries that they know will result in this sport.”