Thursday, June 24, 2010

Latest on Martha Hart's suit against WWE


Martha Hart, the widow of Owen Hart, who was killed in a 1999 stunt gone wrong while performing for WWE, has filed another lawsuit against the company, claiming they used Owen's image without her permission in over thirty videos and various publications since his death 11 years ago. WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon and former CEO Linda McMahon are also named as defendants in the suit filed Tuesday morning at U.S. District Court in Hartford, Connecticut. "I was shaken to learn earlier this year that they have been using Owen's name and likeness in videos, websites, television programs and print material without my knowledge, much less my approval," Martha Hart said Tuesday at a press conference in Hartford. "In addition to being grossly insensitive to me and my children, it is in direct violation of the final contract Owen signed with the WWE before his death." Martha, 43, is demanding that WWE stop selling products baring the name of her late husband. She is also seeking unpaid royalties for uses of Owen's image, along with unspecified damages, attorneys' fees and other relief. Gregg Rubenstein, Martha's Boston-based attorney, asserts that when Owen died, essentially his WWE booking contract was terminated, and therefore a provision of that contract would mean control of Owen's legal name and likeness reverts to the wrestler, or in this case, Martha, as executor of his estate. WWE attorney Jerry McDevitt, yesterday described Martha's suit as "a cheap political stunt" without merit timed for publicity against Linda McMahon's Senatorial campaign. A statement released by the WWE legal department read: "The lawsuit by Martha Hart is nothing more than pure political orchestration. This claim has nothing to do with the tragic accident in 1999. It pertains solely to the use of intellectual property, which is not typically brought to the media's attention through a pre-emptive press release, a dedicated website (www.marthahartsueswwe.com) and a press conference before the filing of the suit. This case has no more merit than the one Martha Hart unsuccessfully brought against WWE recently in Canada, which was dismissed and Mrs. Hart was ordered to pay WWE's counsel fees." The later statement was in reference to an injunction Martha filed earlier this year seeking to prevent the sale of WWE's Hart & Soul Anthology DVD. "Martha Hart does not have some exclusive right to tell the story of her husband,'' McDevitt told the Hartford Courant. "He was a public figure … he was part of WWE.'' McDevitt added that WWE holds a copyright on the likeness of Owen and that he will always remain part of pro wrestling history. "His death was widely reported. (Martha) wrote a book about it. Everybody that Owen's life touched has their right to tell their version of the Owen Hart story and he's a part of the WWE's history." Martha, meanwhile, insists that her suit is not politically motivated. "This has nothing to do with Linda's political career,'' she told reporters at her press conference. "Although, that said, certainly as a voter, I would think that people should certainly question the moral character of this action." Owen Hart, 34, wrestling as the Blue Blazer, fell 78 feet to his death when an equipment malfunction occurred during his entrance from the rafters of the Kemper Arena in Kansas City on May 23, 1999 at WWE's Over the Edge pay-per-view. Martha sued the company for wrongful death but settled the case out of court for $18 million in 2000. WWE later settled with the maker of the harness equipment for $9 million. And because the company’s insurance carrier paid around $11 million, it's believed that WWE actually profited on the settlement. In recent years, Martha has used more than $2 million of her money to establish the Owen Hart Foundation; a Charity to help with college scholarships for children with special needs. She largely separated herself from the majority of the Hart family, and has criticized some family members who continued to work for the WWE after Owen's death. She also sued her sister-in-law Diana Hart-Smith in 2001, over Diana's book, Under the Mat: Inside Wrestling's Greatest Family, for what she claims included inaccurate and irresponsible statements about her and her family. As a result the book was pulled from circulation.

Jim Ross wrote about the Martha Hart lawsuit at www.jrsbarbq.com: "I am not a lawyer, have never played one on TV, and know zilch about this untimely legal matter. Nonetheless my personal opinion is that the timing of this legal posturing is questionable specifically as it relates to Connecticut politics. Plus, I have never recalled WWE ever doing any thing but honoring Owen's legacy and certainly not 'exploiting' it in a negative light. Owen Hart is one of the most requested guys who fans want to see inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. We get dozens of emails off and on all year or whenever the HOF topic is discussed. Does this legal mindset mean that if WWE ever decided to induct Owen into the Hall of Fame that he so richly deserves that there would be more litigation? Should the threat of a lawsuit deprive Owen Hart of an honor that many feel that he deserves? Contrary to any litigation, present or future, Owen's legacy isn't going to be forgotten and nor should it. Now you can see why I'm not a fan of politics. It seems that in today's political world tactics like this are the norm. Again, this is only one guy's opinion and I certainly do NOT represent WWE but it saddens me to have my memory jolted this morning of my late friend in a manner such as this." Ross worked backstage at the pay-per-view on Sunday, but Vince produced the announce team. He noted that he took in the show with Joey Styles and thinks it's hilarious that people seem to assume he was the mystery GM sending emails to Michael Cole during Monday's Raw.

Credit: Wrestling Globe Newsletter

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