WWF, Hart family butt heads over lawsuit venue
By CAROL HARRINGTON -- Canadian Press
CALGARY -- The World Wrestling Federation and the family of Owen Hart are going to the mat about where the professional wrestler's wrongful death lawsuit will be heard.
The federation filed a lawsuit Friday asking that the court venue be changed to Connecticut where the group has its headquarters.
The Harts swiftly responded.
"We will contest a change of venue," said Pam Fischer, the family's Calgary lawyer.
"The accident happened in Missouri. We have retained council in Missouri. We filed the initial complaint in Missouri."
WWF lawyers argue Hart's contract with parent company, Titan Sports, states any lawsuits must be decided by Connecticut law.
"Owen signed a contract with Titan -- several contracts with Titan -- and the parties always agreed that if there were any disputes or injuries or things of that nature, up to and including death ... any lawsuits that would follow would be litigated in Connecticut," said WWF lawyer Jerry McDevitt.
Fischer said the contracts are no longer valid.
"It also says in the contract that the contract expires upon death," Fischer said. "We treat it as null and void because it expired upon his death and he's obviously dead."
Hart, also known as The Blue Blazer, was killed May 23 when he fell from a cable as he was being lowered into the ring at a WWF wrestling match at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Mo.
Hart, 34, fell more than 21 metres when the release on his harness opened prematurely.
Police investigated but concluded there wasn't enough evidence to lay criminal charges.
The WWF wants the case moved to Connecticut courts simply because that's where the federation is based, said McDevitt, but he admitted laws differ in the two states.
"There are differences in the laws of the two states that will come into play eventually," he said.
Steve Thornberry, a Missouri lawyer independent of both parties, said a jury in the WWF homebase of Stamford, Conn., a seaside community across from Long Island, N.Y., would likely be more favourable toward the WWF.
But a change in venue is a moot point because Missouri law will still apply in the case, Thornberry said.
"That's where the action had happened and that's where the (alleged) acts of negligence happened," Thornberry said.
Hart's widow, Martha, their two children and his parents, Helen and Stu, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Missouri in mid-June, listing 46 separate counts against 13 defendants.
Besides the WWF and Titan Sports, the lawsuit named WWF chairman Vince McMahon and Kansas City, the owner and operator of Kemper Arena.
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.
"The equipment was absolutely inadequate," Fischer said.
After a criminal investigation, Missouri police concluded there wasn't enough evidence to charge the WWF with involuntary manslaughter due to recklessness. The WWF continued sending Hart's weekly paycheques to Martha after he died -- seven in all -- but they were promptly returned, McDevitt said.
"What we've gotten back is, 'We don't want the money, the pay cheques. We're not interested in talking. We want to litigate,'" McDevitt said.
"It was our hopes it could have been avoided."