Concussion in Sport

Solicitors from MTB recently attended a seminar in Dublin entitled ‘On Deadly Ground – the standard of care and head injuries in rugby’ with all proceeds from the seminar going to the brain injury charity Headway.

Sports injuries can present challenges for litigators as it is generally accepted that anyone engaging in a sporting activity, and in particular a contact sport like rugby, accepts the inherent risk associated with participation. As a result, sustaining an injury in the sporting arena does not necessarily mean that a successful personal injury claim can be pursued.  Generally speaking, if the injury was caused in the normal course of the game a liability is unlikely to arise but if an injury is caused maliciously or ‘off the ball’, then a player, and the club/school responsible for that player, could find themselves liable for the injury caused. Depending on the nature of the conduct the offending player could even find themselves subject to criminal proceedings.

The referee and team medics could also find themselves in trouble over injuries sustained in the game; the referee for failing to enforce the rules of the game and the medic for medical negligence. Quite often the allegations of medical negligence stem from head injuries and the ‘return to play’ pathway. This brings us onto the subject of concussion.

Concussion in contact sports, and particularly in rugby, has been quite high profile in recent years and there is much more awareness of the long term damage repeated concussions can cause.  One speaker at the seminar, Dr Michael Turner, the Medical Director of ICHIRF compared concussion to asbestos or cigarettes from a litigation point of view.  He argued that since the NFL class action settlement in 2013 it is more difficult to argue that one was unaware of the risks posed by repeated head injuries. He opined that medical professionals must protect themselves from negligence claims by ensuring that players are given proper informed consent. He said that ‘return to play’ cannot be the only option discussed.

Clubs and schools can also find themselves subject to legal proceedings for failing to follow a suitable head injury protocol.  Indeed, after the tragic cases of Ben Robinson and Lucas Neville, there is much debate amongst medical professionals and sports organisations around whether children should be allowed to participate in contact sport at all.

That’s not to say we should all give up sports posthaste.  For the vast majority of people sport enriches their lives and participation has great health and mental health benefits. It’s about being aware of the risks and taking responsibility for your own safety and, if you are involved with a sporting organisation, erring on the side of caution when considering whether or not players are fit to return to play. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Winning the game is no consolation for a lifetime of neurological difficulties or other debilitating injury.

If you have any questions or concerns about any of the issues touched upon above feel free to contact our litigation team for further advice.