Might we, as litigation lawyers, expect to receive enquires from sportsmen and women who have suffered head injuries in the course of play and might they have claims?
The rise of concussion-type injuries is a growing issue together with the rise in numbers of sports participants diagnosed with CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).The condition was previously associated with boxing (the notion of being "punch drunk"), but doctors are now recognising that it affects former players of many other sports.
There is enormous concern within sporting organisations globally.
Here in the UK, can we look to the USA as our crystal ball for the future?
In the US, for young athletes, legislation known as the Zackery Lystedt Law (named after a young American athlete who sustained a life-threatening brain injury after returning to a youth football game after taking a "hard hit") is in place in 50 states and means that no youth athlete suspected of having sustained a concussion can return to the sports field to play or practise without medical assessment and approval.
In 2013, the NFL agreed a $765 million settlement with over 4,500 former American football players who were suing on the grounds that they had been misled over the long-term dangers of head injuries.
In late 2013, more than 200 former NHL ice-hockey players filed a similar lawsuit, alleging that the League had subjected the players to devastating and long-term health consequences by failing to warn players of the risks and consequences of head injury.
Statistics are available for a number of sports which make interesting reading:
Number of Head & Brain injuries in sport annually - per 1000 playing hours:
Horse racing (amateur) 95.2
Horse racing (Jumps) 25.6
Horse racing (Flat) 17.1
Professional boxing 13.2
Australian rules football 7.2
Rugby Union 6.7
NHL Ice Hockey 1.5
FIFA Football/Soccer 0.4
NFL American Football 0.2
Here, in the UK, in recent times, we have seen an increasing number of headlines:
"Rugby may pay for rise of big hits"
(re possible claims and the dangers of head injuries in rugby)
"Hogo Ko Storm"
(the football goalie knocked out and then allowed to play on)
"Lewis Moody - we used to treat concussion as a joke"
(rugby players worry re dementia)
"Fitness to Ride"
(safety in horse racing in GB)
As players are getting bigger and stronger and, as young players are expected to train harder and longer with more emphasis on weights training, the G-forces that occur in sports collisions can often exceed those applicable to F1 drivers. However, the risks are a problem that enthusiastic young players often simply do not want to know about!
A US neurologist has suggested: "if you suffer concussion on 3 occasions, you should think of retiring".
A leading neuropathologist in Glasgow has stated: "there is a very strong association between sports where there is an exposure to repetitive head injury and the onset of CTE".
It would be wise to bear in mind that many sports authorities dispute that there is a causal link between repeated head traumas and the onset of CTE and neurologists accept that there may be other unidentified factors involved.
It would also be reasonable to assume that, given the recent US lawsuits and more publicity here in the UK, it will be harder for future generation of players to litigate as they may be deemed to have been aware of the risks before taking to their field of play.
However, if the USA is any measure of what the future holds, might we expect calls from concerned parents of children presently involved in sport and from older retired sportsmen and women currently facing a diagnosis of CTE which may have been caused by the sport they loved?
If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact our Litigation team.