The widow of Owen Hart, a wrestler killed in the ring 11 years ago, is suing Linda McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment, claiming that the WWE has violated Hart’s 1996 contract by continuing to use his name and image in videos in which he appears.
“They have been profiting from this tragic death,” Martha Hart said at a news conference today announcing the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Hartford. “I will not tolerate this behavior and I want it to stop.”
The center of the case is a video, “Hart and Soul: The Hart Family Anthology” released in April by WWE about the deceased wrestler and his family, many of which are wrestlers. Martha Hart’s lawsuit claims her husband’s estate owns his name and likeness, and WWE has no right to use them.
WWE’s lawyer Jerry McDevitt disagrees and called the case “meritless.”
“Most people read their contracts,” he said, adding the contract is clear that WWE has exclusive rights to do as they please with their material.
The suit also claims there are 37 other instances in which WWE used Owen Hart’s name and likenesses in videos. Those videos were disclosed in court proceedings in Canada, where Martha Hart lives, aimed at blocking distribution of “Hart and Soul” there.
Gregg Rubenstein, Hart’s lawyer, said the Canadian court denied her request for an injunction because the video “did not cause immediate irreparable harm.”
But McDevitt said the Canadian court rejected Martha Hart’s claims and ordered her to pay $37,500 in legal fees to WWE.
McMahon, the former WWE chief executive officer until last year, is running for the U.S. Senate, and McDevitt called the lawsuit announced Tuesday “a well-orchestrated political hit job.”
But Hart said the timing of the suit has nothing to do with politics.
“I have no interest or care about Linda’s politics,” she said. “I have no connection whatsoever with any of her competitors, absolutely not.”
McMahon stepped down last fall as WWE’s CEO, but Hart said she included her name on the suit because the other 37 violations were during Linda’s tenure at WWE.
“This happened under her watch,” she said. “She was certainly there for the majority of this.”
McMahon’s campaign said they will have no statement on the lawsuit.
In addition to stopping any further production of the video, Hart is also seeking royalty payments and lawyer fees. The suit says the 90,000 videos produced have the potential to reach $3.2 million in sales. Under Hart’s contract, he and the other wrestlers in the video are entitled to share 25 percent of the profits. But that contract has expired, and McDevitt said they plan to challenge that request.
Hart says she does not want her husband’s images to be used by WWE because she does not want him to be used to promote wrestling, a sport she does not condone.
“They are well aware of my wishes,” she said, adding she was “shaken” when she heard about the video.
“If I had not been ignored, I would not be here today,” she said.
This is not the first suit Hart has brought against the WWE: she won $18 million in 2000 in a settlement immediately after the wrestler died after the safety line expected to assist Owen’s 78 foot jump did not work.
McDevitt said this is the first time a deceased wrestler’s estate has sued WWE to stop the publication of the wrestler’s name and likeness.