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Episode 63: Former Rugby Union Players Take Legal Action Over Brain Injuries

In this episode of Brain Injury Insider, host Michael Kaplen discusses news of a huge class action suit on behalf of 185 former rugby players against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union, and the Welsh Rugby Union. The players, represented by Rylands Law in the UK, have been diagnosed with early-onset dementia and other irreversible neurological impairments.

Lawsuits against leagues and sport’s governing groups for sport related Traumatic Brain Injury are increasingly becoming more common with the trend now spreading across the Ocean to Europe where a class action lawsuit has been announced on behalf of a group of professional and semi-professional players against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union.

Similar to claims made in actions commenced in US courts, the claimants contend that the sport’s governing bodies were negligent in failing to take reasonable action to protect players from permanent injury caused by repetitive concussive and sub-concussive blows.

This is reportedly the largest class action lawsuit commenced outside of the United States with claims of injury including CTE, a condition I have previously discussed. CTE stands for chronic traumatic encephalopathy.  CTE was originally identified in the brains of boxers and was termed boxing pugilistica.   It’s only known cause is repetitive head trauma leading to profound neuro degeneration in its victims and causing both physical and psychological injuries including dementia.  But CTE is not the only degenerative brain condition caused by repetitive head trauma.  Parkinson’s disease (recall Mohammed Ali), ALS, sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s disease, causing progressive nerve system failure, seizure disorders, and stroke have been established to be caused by repetitive head trauma. 

Cases contending that teams, leagues, and other groups responsible for the management of athletic events failed to disclose information to players about the risks of repetitive head trauma and the need to not return to play until symptoms of a brain injury, including concussions resolve; providing misleading and false information to players about these risks; failing to institute rules for return to plan; and in other cases failing to properly follow these rules have been instituted against most sports organizations including professional football in the United States including the National Football League, the NCAA, the national collegiate athletic association responsible for the health and safety of college athletes, soccer leagues, hockey leagues.

The issue is what did these leagues and teams know?  When did the learn of these dangers?  And what did they do with this information?    What did they know and what did they do?

Rylands Law, the English law firm representing these rugby players issued a statement stating “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”

 “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.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Unfortunately, we are learning that like the conduct of tobacco companies hiding the health risks of smoking, these leagues have intentionally misled players.  These lawsuits have the ability not only to provide needed compensation to players suffering from brain trauma, but to shed light on this invisible injury and the risks associated with repetitive head trauma. 

But any resolution must include compensation to players not only for a certain select group of conditions, but for the vast majority of players who suffer from the post concussive syndrome which includes persistent headaches, dizziness, vision problems, sleep disturbance, memory and concentration impairment, behavioral changes and depression.  

In the past our law firm has filed opposition in Federal Court including the United States Supreme Court on behalf of the Brain Injury Association of America to the settlement reached against the NFL for failing to compensate the vast majority of players suffering long term brain damage because of repetitive head trauma.

Parents, trainers, coaches, and others responsible for the health and safety of our nation’s youth need to understand the risks of head trauma and the risks of allowing an athlete to return to play before all signs and symptoms of a concussion have resolved.  It’s simple:  When in doubt, keep them out.

Audio version

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