Chris Benoit’s Father’s Bombshell: ‘We Still Have Seven Years to Decide on Whether to Sue WWE’

The previous post publishes my new exchange of emails with Mike Benoit, Chris’s father. This is the passage that jumped out at me:

“I do hope [your book] included McDevitt’s suggestion that my son was dealing drugs and that is why we never sued them. That man is just full of character and integrity. The fact of the matter is that the children have the option to bring legal action up to two years after their eighteenth birthday. In the case of Chris’s daughter that is seven years from now.”

Like  other observers, I was under the assumption that both sides of the family (both the Benoits and Nancy Benoit’s side, the Toffolonis) had a stautory deadline of two years after the double murder/suicide for filing civil wrongful-death lawsuits. That window closed this past summer. Just before the deadline, the Toffolonis, in U.S. District Court in Georgia, sued Chris’s doctor, Phil Astin (who is now serving a ten-year sentence in federal prison), and “Distributors X, Y, and Z.” World Wrestling Entertainment was not named.

The news – not confirmed to me by legal experts, but certainly asserted by Mike Benoit – that the Benoit side’s statutory deadline is the 18th birthday of Chris’s daughter from a previous marriage would scramble the dynamics of the case.

And since Mike Benoit’s focus is, and always has been, not drugs but the brain trauma from his son’s many untreated concussions, that is a significant development.

As noted in my book CHRIS & NANCY – and obvious again in this exchange – I may never satisfy Mr. Benoit with my take on the brain research. I think it’s there and it’s some undetermined part of the mix, and I’m watching closely for more. For his part, it is the answer.

During the book research I had a long conversation with Dr. Bennet Omalu, who studied Chris Benoit’s brain after it was secured by Chris Nowinski of the Sports Legacy Institute. I also read Omalu’s book Play Hard, Die Young: Football, Depression, Dementia and Death. Unfortunately, it is not a very good book. Omalu is less than scientifically convincing in his refusal even to engage the possible interplay between concussions and other factors, most notably steroids and painkillers. Omalu also does himself no favors with a mystical riff about what he believes were supernatural tricks played on him and his family by the brain of a deceased football player that Omalu was carrying in his car.

I must say that the article about the concussion issue in the October 19, 2009, issue of The New Yorker, by bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell, is more like it. Gladwell cites the work both of Omalu and of Dr. Ann McKee, who runs the neuropathology laboratory at Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts. “McKee and Omalu are trying to make sense of the cases they’ve seen so far,” Gladwell wrote, and McKee feels that she won’t have a solid quantifying handle on the phenomenon called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy until she has examined at least 50 ex-athletes’ brains. At this point we know that brains damaged in this fashion show abnormal patterns of tau protein. But I, personally, find it hard to believe that Andrew “Test” Martin, at 33, and Chris Benoit, at 40 (and with a much more reckless wrestling performance style), had identical damage.

We’re just getting started with this valuable research. The first part of that research, evidently, includes a necessary hype phase in order to gain adequate funding and support.

Though I hate even having to mix it into this post, let me also address Mike Benoit’s question about WWE lawyer Jerry McDevitt’s posthumous innuendo that Chris might have been a drug dealer. I do not get into that in CHRIS & NANCY because I found nothing to support it other than what McDevitt said in his email to me, which was part of a campaign of legal harassment by him while I was researching the book.

The full text of McDevitt’s emails are included in the DVD of supplementary materials that is being marketed as a companion to the book.  My exchange with McDevitt was also published in full at the time on this blog, and most recently republished in installments on my Twitter feed.

In my June 9, 2009, article for SLAM! Wrestling (viewable at http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Wrestling/GuestColumn/2009/06/08/9715336.html), I pointed out that part of McDevitt’s email could have had a chilling effect on any party tempted to file wrongful-death litigation as a kind of fishing expedition. Dr. Astin, McDevitt noted, was charged with not only prescribing an illegitimate amount of drugs to both Chris and Nancy Benoit, but also ‘with conspiracy with some of the recipients of his prescriptions to further distribute the drugs. As Michael Benoit surely knows, since he is the executor of the estate, the house where the murders were committed had no mortgage. Instead, the builder was paid by a series of payments totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, and all payments were consistently made by Nancy Benoit from various accounts.’”

Irv Muchnick

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