Steve’s View #145 – Legal Risks of Wrestler On Fan Violence

Recently I’ve written a few columns covering wrestler and fan interactions such as assaults and riots. Since we live in an age where everyone knows that wrestling is scripted (people have known for a long time), it doesn’t seem as likely in the United States that we would see any sort of riot or fans attacking the heel over whatever dastardly deeds they did. Now days any instances of fans involving themselves in the show in ways they shouldn’t are usually the results of drunkenness or stupidity. No one should try to make themselves a part of the show and no one is proving how tough they are by challenging a pro-wrestler during a show. Why not just go the The Lion King musical and challenge Scar to lead the pride?

That being said wrestlers have to be very careful in the instances of any fan stupidity. The courts have generally sided on the side of fans when there have been any fights between wrestlers and fans. Most indy promotions don’t carry any insurance and certainly can’t afford lawyers as well. Not only is the wrestler taking a risk but he is placing the promotion at risk as well. There was recently an incident at a show where several fans were forcibly escorted from a venue by several wrestlers, and by all accounts the fans were acting like idiots. However wrestlers probably shouldn’t have been involved in any removal of the fans and that should have been left to security to handle. Wrestlers working outside of their roles would just add to any legal woes that could be had. It is also very easy to cross that line to assault in these instances. I remember long ago a very drunk fan getting pummeled by security when he jumped a railing at a show and then was attacked by a wrestler in the back and the promoter had to talk the sheriffs out of arresting the wrestler. Luckily the fan was way to drunk to know what was going on.

When courts make rulings, they normally rely on precedent. There are two pretty famous cases dealing with wrestlers attacking fans. In Massey v. Jim Crocket Promotions, Inc., et al (West Virginia 1990) someone threw an object into the ring that struck Bobby Eaton (of the Midnight Express). Stan Lane ran into the crowd to confront who he thought threw the object and struck a disabled coal miner in his sixties, Mr. Massey, who fell to the ground and ended up in the hospital for over a week. Mr. Massey and his wife filed suit against Stan Lane for hitting him, Jim Crockett Promotions under the legal doctrine called respondeat superior which holds an employer liable for the actions of his employees under certain circumstances, and the security company for not providing a reasonable level of security at the event.

The case ended up going to the West Virginia Supreme Court which ruled in the Massesy’s favor. While it was clear that Stan Lane struck Massey, the court also found that the promoter was legally required to anticipate foreseeable happenings and use ordinary care to prevent injuries to fans. They also ruled there was evidence the security company did not have enough security guards on duty and could be found negligent.

Another incident is Grover Sills v. Mid-South Sports Inc., et al (1989) where “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan punched a fan with his fist after he went into the crowd after someone who threw a cup of ice at him. “Hacksaw” fractured the fan’s orbital bone and the fan was awarded $25,432. The judge even stated that since pro-wrestlers earn their income from fans buying tickets to wrestling matches, the wrestlers actually owe a legal duty to protect fans from harm during a show, and to not intentionally harm them.

There are actually quite a few other court cases dealing with similar issues, and most end the same (though occasionally the promotion gets off the hook). The main takeaways are that wrestlers should not get physical with fans (unless acting in self-defense), promoters should be prepared to be held liable if a wrestler injures a fan at a show, and in wrestler versus fan court cases, the fan often wins in court.

A quick side note, when looking up info I came across a court case where a fan sued over a wrestler being thrown from the ring and into the audience. In that case the court sided with the promotion due to the fan sitting in an exposed position when he should have reasonably known a wrestler could be thrown into the audience.

A lot of people who attended last weekend’s Championship Wrestling from Hollywood taping, including a few wrestlers, are raving about the United Television championship match between Tyler Bateman and B-Boy. I was told the match went about 18 minutes and there were loud “fight forever” chants, dueling chants for both wrestlers and a “please come back” chant for B-Boy after the match. One person told me it was the best match there in years. I’m not certain of an airdate for the match yet, but it seems like Championship Wrestling from Hollywood normally starts airing stuff about a month after it happens.

I thought Thunder Rosa / Kobra Moon’s segment on this week’s Lucha Underground episode was fantastic and one of the things that makes the show so great at times. If you missed it try to track it down.

The Miz has been having some really good matches lately and it got me thinking about UPW and Ultimate University. Is there any other school in the last few decades that has had the legacy UPW ended up having? The Miz, John Cena, and Lisa Marie Varon alone would put a school among the most successful but then you add in all of the other wrestlers who started there or the school had a hand in training and it is amazing how many people wrestlers ended up in WWE at one time or another.

Has anyone started planning a Star Wars: Rogue One showing get-together after PWG’s Mystery Vortex IV yet? I’m sure that movie is going to be playing all night long.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and no one should take any legal advice from this column at any time. Seriously, it’s a bad idea.

One Response to Steve’s View #145 – Legal Risks of Wrestler On Fan Violence

  1. verbalwrestling 12/10/2016 at 11:31 AM #

    I read this article yesterday and would believe it, at Midget Mania in Costa Mesa last night, some dumbass drunk fan gets into the ring during the Richie Slade/Billy Blade v Socal/E-Money match.