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WWE wins dismissal of lawsuits over two wrestlers' deaths

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By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - A federal judge has dismissed two wrongful death lawsuits seeking to hold World Wrestling Entertainment Inc liable for the deaths of two former wrestlers, whose families said were caused by traumatic brain injuries suffered in the ring.

U.S. District Judge Vanessa Bryant in Hartford, Connecticut ruled on Thursday night that relatives of Nelson Frazier and Matthew Osborne failed to link their deaths to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), or show they were caused by the company's negligence or fraudulent conduct.

She said an autopsy called Osborne's June 2013 death accidental and linked it to opiate ingestion, while Frazier, who weighed about 500 pounds while wrestling, died eight months later of a heart attack linked to obesity and diabetes.

"It is impossible to plausibly allege, much less prove that either wrestler had CTE," and it is "rank speculation" to say the company's wrongful conduct was a cause of the deaths, Bryant wrote.

Konstantine Kyros, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, in an email said the families may appeal, and that the deaths were "consequences of an abusive and exploitative culture within the WWE."

A World Wrestling Entertainment spokesman said the company planned to issue a statement later on Friday.

Frazier performed for the company from 1993 to 2008, and Osborne performed during one-year stints in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, Bryant said.

The judge had dismissed similar claims in March by some retired wrestlers who said the Stamford, Connecticut-based company's was negligent in scripting violent conduct, and failed to properly diagnose and treat their concussions.

World Wrestling Entertainment still faces lawsuits, including some filed by Kyros, on behalf of dozens of other former wrestlers like Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka over alleged neurological injuries.

In Thursday's decision, Bryant declined the company's request that she sanction Kyros for alleged misconduct, such as including baseless claims and inflammatory content in court filings and suing in the wrong courthouse.

But the judge called some of Kyros' conduct "highly unprofessional," and admonished him to follow the rules.

The National Football League and National Hockey League have also faced lawsuits over head injuries suffered by retired or deceased players during their careers.

The cases are Frazier et al v. World Wrestling Entertainment Inc, U.S. District Court, District of Connecticut, No. 15-01229; and James et al v. World Wrestling Entertainment Inc in the same court, No. 15-01305.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)


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