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Bret Hart Launches Legal Bid

Cactus Jack

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CALGARY -- Bret (the Hitman) Hart is hoping to pin down one of the world's oldest insurance outfits in a $2.2-million lawsuit that accuses Lloyd's of London of refusing to pay the Calgary wrestler's disability claim for a career-ending concussion he suffered during a 1999 match.


Mr. Hart received a "severe and violent" kick to the head from opponent Bill Goldberg during a World Championship Wrestling match in Baltimore, according to the four-page statement of claim filed this week with Alberta's Court of Queen's Bench.


The lawsuit seeks more than $1.2-million in unpaid disability benefits and another $1-million in punitive and aggravated damages for breach of duties.


"Notwithstanding that some people think it's all fake, people get seriously hurt wrestling," said Kenneth Staroszik, Mr. Hart's Calgary-based lawyer.


Mr. Hart's brother, Owen Hart, died in 1999 when he fell more than five storeys during a wrestling stunt gone wrong, an accident that ended in an $18-million (U.S.) wrongful-death settlement with World Wrestling Entertainment, an empire that WCW has now been folded into.


"Lloyd's have not denied the claim, but they haven't paid it either," Mr. Staroszik said. "Things are just going so slow that we've decided we have to start an action."


Mr. Hart, now 46, who was born into Stu and Helen Hart's Calgary-based wrestling dynasty, had been performing professionally in the so-called squared-circle since 1978.


But his career ended shortly after the December, 1999, bout featuring the miscalculated kick. Mr. Hart, who is a few inches shorter than Mr. Goldberg and 50 pounds lighter, stumbled through the match after getting a motorcycle boot to the head.


The Canadian fan favourite took the show-must-go-on attitude and continued wrestling for a few weeks despite continual headaches, lethargy, confusion and memory loss. A doctor diagnosed him in January, 2000, with a serious concussion.


"It became apparent that he would not be able to return to the ring without the risk of serious brain damage," Mr. Staroszik explained. Lloyd's, the British insurance market that dates back more than 315 years and had been Mr. Hart's insurer since 1998, was alerted to the injury when Mr. Hart lost his job with WCW in October of 2000. More than three years have passed and Mr. Hart has seen a Lloyd's neurologist and traded other information with the company, but no payment has materialized, the lawsuit says.


"At this point the insurer has not denied the claim," said Brian Vail, Lloyd's Edmonton-based lawyer. "The insurer has not made a final decision yet." He said that while the claims process usually takes time, Lloyd's plans to file a statement of defence and continue with its investigation.


"Mr. Hart has decided not to wait any longer and I make no comment on that good or bad. Lloyd's has been around since there were real kings in England and doing business for a long time so they're a pretty reputable outfit," Mr. Vail said. Mr. Staroszik said his client has no legal recourse against his former employer. But like other athletes, Mr. Hart took out the insurance policy to cover certain injuries sustained on the job, including concussions.


"It was a career-ending blow," Mr. Staroszik said. "That's the tragedy of the thing. His Lloyd's policy is one thing. . . . It's a fraction of what his earnings would have been until the end of his career."


Hmm, A motocycle boot? WTF!

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