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Personal Injury Claims for Concussion in Rugby

Last year I wrote about the ticking time bomb class action lawsuit that was about to change the future of rugby. So where are we now over one year later?

Well the latest chapter in one of sport’s biggest stories has seen a further 55 amateur rugby players join the class, taking the number of claimants involved to almost 300 players. Proceedings are being brought against Welsh Rugby Union, Rugby Football Union and World Rugby. The player’s say the lack of protection against repetitive concussive and sub-concussive blows has led to irreversible neurological impairments which include early onset dementia, post-concussion syndrome, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and motor neurone disease.

As of April 2023, we now know that proceedings have been issued with the High Court. One of the firms representing the players said “this claim isn’t just about financial compensation; it is also about making the game safer and ensuring current and former players get tested so that if they are suffering a brain injury they can get the clinical help they need”. They also said “the players we represent love the game. We aim to challenge the current perceptions of the governing bodies, to reach a point where they accept the connection between repetitive blows to the head and permanent neurological injury and to take steps to protect players and support those who are injured.”

World Rugby chief executive, Alan Gilpin has responded to the lawsuit emphasising that World Rugby was committed to making the game safer when it comes to head injuries and concussions. “Our message to those players involved in the case is very much: we absolutely care, we are listening, we are part of the debate and we want to make the right type of progress.”

Others suggest that the World Cup 2023 will be the end of rugby as we know it. Neuropathologist and former World Rugby advisor Prof Willie Stewart commented that he thinks that the current form of rugby union as it is played will change straight after the World Cup. Well, stay tuned.

What is concussion?

England Rugby describes concussion as ‘a traumatic brain injury resulting from a blow to the head or body which results in forces being transmitted to the brain. This typically presents as a rapid onset of short-lived impairment of brain function that resolves spontaneously. A range of signs and symptoms are typically seen, affecting the player’s thinking, memory, mood, behaviour, level of consciousness, and various physical effects. Recovery typically happens over a period of days or weeks, although in some cases symptoms may be prolonged.

But it’s rugby?

Rugby is a contact sport involving frequent body impacts and risks of accidental head impacts and therefore it does come with inherent risks of concussion. However, players have the right to the correct diagnosis and treatment. RFU in conjunction with HEADCASE have set out a campaign specifically designed to help identity the signs that indicate a player has suffered from concussion and provides guidance as to when it is safe for a player to return to the pitch.

How do you prove concussion in personal injury claims?

The burden of proof is on the Claimant. Firstly, the Claimant must prove that on a balance of probabilities that the negligence caused, or materially contributed to their injury. Secondly, the Claimant must show their consequential losses flow from their injury. And lastly, if the Claimant developed a risk of developing symptoms, the Claimant must prove the risk is above a 50% chance.

What should I do if I’m injured playing rugby?

If you’re injured playing rugby with your school or with a club, there’s a couple of things you should do. First, seek medical attention, it is important that you are properly assessed, particularly if you are planning on continuing with the game. Secondly, ensure the accident and the medical assessment is reported in writing. Lastly, you should also take details of anyone that witnessed the incident.

If you’ve been injured playing rugby and you are unsure whether you have a claim, contact our specialist Personal Injury team and we’d be happy to talk to you. Call us today on 0330 822 3451 or request a call back from us.

Concussion in sports such as football have been a hot topic over the years, but more recently rugby has been at the forefront of the debate.

In 2020-21 a report was released by the Rugby Football Union (RFU) which showed concussion was the most reported injury in rugby, accounting for 28% of all injuries. Whilst overall there has been a decrease in reported injuries in the sport, concussion in elite rugby has hit an all-time high since records began. Coincidently the report was published on the same day the World Rugby Union confirmed its plan to extend the minimum stand down time from 6 days up to 12.

Alix Popham, former Wales back-rower, was diagnosed with early onset dementia in 2021 at the age of 40. His doctor estimates the former player sustained more than 100,000 sub concussion blows in his professional career. When discussing the risks associated with the sport, he says ‘we knew our bodies were going to be in bits when we retired, but we had no clue our brains were as well.’

In December 2021, a group of players launched a class action against World Rugby for negligence and their failure to protect players from the risks caused by concussion. Players include Popham and England World Cup Winner, Steve Thompson who also revealed he was diagnosed with early signs of dementia at the age of 42, after he could not remember winning the world cup.

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