Harts sue WWF
Martha Hart, widow of the late professional wrestler Owen Hart announces that her family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the World Wrestling Federation in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Cliff Schiappa)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CP) - Calling it an unnecessary and senseless tragedy, the widow of pro wrestler Owen Hart has filed a wrongful death lawsuit over the stunt last month that claimed her husband's life. Weeping and pounding a table Tuesday as she read an emotional statement to reporters, Martha Hart blasted the World Wrestling Federation for continuing the event even after her husband plunged to his death while attempting a dramatic, sky-borne entrance into the ring in Kansas City.
"When I found out the WWF continued the wrestling show after my husband's dead body was removed from the ring in front of 17,000 people, and of course a major pay-per-view event as well, I was simply outraged and repulsed," Hart said.
"Out of respect for my husband, Owen, and our family, I believe the show should not have gone on. But to me this demonstrates the mindset of the WWF and (WWF chairman) Vince McMahon."
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified "fair and reasonable" damages, was filed Tuesday morning in Jackson County circuit court on behalf of Hart's widow, their two children and his parents, Helen and Stu Hart, a pioneer of professional wrestling in Western Canada.
Owen Hart - known in professional wrestling as The Blue Blazer - was killed May 23 when he fell 21 metres after his quick-release harness opened early as he was being lower into the ring on a cable at a WWF spectacle at Kemper Arena in Kansas City.
The lawsuit lists 46 separate counts against 13 defendants. Among the defendants are the companies that manufactured the harness and cable system used in the stunt, as well as the individuals who set up the rigging.
Besides the WWF and its parent company, Titan Sports, the lawsuit named McMahon and the city of Kansas City, the owner and operator of Kemper Arena where Hart died.
WWF officials declined comment Tuesday until they see the lawsuit.
Alan Schmelzle, general manager of Kemper Arena, said city officials were "as anxious as the Hart family to find out what happened".
"We just offered the facility, he said. "None of our employees or equipment had anything to do with the accident."
Schmelzle said the decision to continue was not out of disrespect for Hart. "It's not like we had a meeting about it," he said. "The next show just went on. Honestly, we didn't know at that point if he was dead."
At her news conference, Hart said it was difficult for the family to return to a place that held such a painful association for them.
"But Kansas City is a real family town and the people here have embraced us, our family, with tremendous sympathy and support," she said.
"I have taken this legal action for two reasons," Hart said.
"First, I believe that those responsible for Owen's death should be held accountable under the law. Second, and equally as important, it is my heartfelt desire that no other wrestler for the WWF or any other sports show be subject to the same unsafe, dangerous demands which are increasingly becoming a part of wrestling entertainment."
"Professional wrestling has become a showy display of graphic violence, sexual themes and ever more dangerous stunts," she added.
"In their ever increasing effort to increase ticket sales and TV market share, the WWF has deliberately chose to promote profit at the expense of the most basic safety of its performers."
"Make no mistake, wresting is a show and it's fake. It is entertainment. Owen has died and there is nothing I can do to bring him back. But my one hope above all is that his death will not be in vain."
"For the sake of our children, my wish is that Owen's death will serve as a vehicle to vastly improve the safety in this industry. There was absolutely no reason for this to have happened. It was so unnecessary and so senseless."
Lawyer Ed Pipella of Calgary joined forces with the Kansas City, Mo., firm of Robb and Robb to file the suit.
Hart's family has said the wrestler was leery about the flashy stunt he was supposed to perform, but was persuaded to do it anyway.
He had done the stunt before and had practised at the arena hours earlier.
Police said Hart may have lost his balance while preparing for his drop and somehow activated the release.
Investigators in Kansas City are conducting a criminal investigation into Hart's death.
Under Missouri law, the possible charge could be involuntary manslaughter due to recklessness. The charge carries a maximum prison sentence of seven years.
"In looking at the rigging, I have a concern whether this was the safest way to do this stunt," Police Maj. Gregory Mills said last week.
Mills said detectives will investigate whether specialists hired by the WWF were using the appropriate equipment, whether they used it correctly and if Hart was properly trained to use it.