World sport braced for further rugby-style legal action over head injury neglect
World sport is braced for a deluge of rugby-style legal actions over head injury neglect, according to reports.
Commentators suggest the governing bodies of football – which is battling a dementia crisis – and rugby league will be the next to face legal action for past negligence early this year.
Several other organisations fear they may also be challenged over what is a global sporting scandal.
Even non-contact sports such as cycling could be liable for how they have mismanaged concussion.
However, the expected multimillion pound lawsuit from rugby players who have suffered permanent brain damage has less than a 50/50 chance of succeeding and a settlement is the most likely outcome, according to two experts quoted in The Guardian.
Professor Jack Anderson, who serves as a mediator and arbitrator at the court of arbitration for sport, said that while he had enormous sympathy with the players’ plight, they would face “substantive legal issues” if their case went to court.
These issues, he said, “Related to breach of duty and causation; to statute of limitations and access to medical records; and even to applicable defences.” Anderson added: “At the same time, having very popular former players up the steps of court, giving direct evidence about their medical status, is probably something that is in the best interest of the authorities to avoid. That is why a settlement makes sense for all sides.”
The Irish sports barrister Tim O’Connor, who has a special interest in rugby and the law, agreed with Anderson’s analysis. Another factor, he said, would be whether the response of World Rugby and English and Welsh unions to the risk of head injuries was reasonable given the state of knowledge at the time.
“But a complicating factor is that some federations will have been far better than others in this regard,” he said. “There will also be a big debate about where the responsibility lies in all this between the doctors, clubs, countries and World Rugby. There is going to be an element of voluntary assumption of risk among the players, too.”