How Long Can Australian Sports Ignore the Evidence on Head Trauma?

PUBLISHED 21 Jan 2016

As Accredited Personal Injury Specialists, our expert team is used to dealing with a wide variety of cases involving significant head trauma and brain injury. While the majority of the cases that come to us involve motor vehicle accidents, we’ve long suspected that it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing a significant uptick in cases concerning sports-related head trauma and concussion.

The American jury on head trauma and concussion is nearly in

In terms of legal landscapes, it’s fair to say that where the United States leads, the rest of the world often follows. The last two decades have seen the subject of sports-related concussions and resulting long-term brain injury steadily rising to the top of political and legal agendas – particularly in the NFL.

Long written off as “part of the game”, the subject of sports-related concussions started to become impossible to ignore following shocking recent incidents such as the 2011 suicide of Dave Duerson, and the continuing rise in the number of ex-players confirmed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.

A wave of litigation eventually resulted in a proposed 2013 NFL concussion settlement covering over 4000 ex-players which is still rumbling through the courts today. That settlement – which could run to $1 billion in payouts – includes monetary compensation for ex-players diagnosed with conditions such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimers and Parkinsons.

Can Australia afford to ignore the evidence on sports-related head trauma?

The wider situation regarding sports-related head trauma in America is a long way from being fully resolved, but it has at least started to be addressed. For a country that is arguably even more in love with high-impact sports (on both the amateur and professional level), Australia is running behind.

The NRL has at least started to address the issue with state-of-the-art game-day concussion tests, but there is much yet to be done in Australia’s three main collision-heavy sports: AFL, rugby league and rugby union.

The 2012 government policy paper on sports concussions from Brain Injury Australia was a landmark publication and their ongoing work at the grass-roots level with support from Sports Medicine Australia is to be applauded. Recent moves by the AFL to start systematically studying the effects of repeated head impacts on players are also extremely welcome.

However, as more and more of our retired sporting heroes are starting to tell their own stories of long-term debilitative injury, it’s clear that the issue needs to rise to the top of the agenda in both professional sports and beyond.

Even outside the sporting arena, Australians are dealing with a quite alarming rate of brain injuries across society. Numbers from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that more than 700,000 Australians are suffering from significant brain injuries, with three-quarters of those affected being under 65, and two-thirds having suffered the injury before they were 25.

Those types of statistics, along with the reality we see every day in medical negligence and personal injury cases, show that there is a silent epidemic of this type of injury across all sectors of Australian society. The increasingly impossible to ignore data from both America and our own shores indicates we need to act now to prevent further easily avoided injuries to our best and brightest down the line – and to provide adequate compensation for those who have been affected through no fault of their own.

At Gerard Malouf & Partners, we’ve handled a huge range of personal injury and medical negligence claims over the years and brain injuries – whether sports-related or otherwise – are a particular area of expertise. If you or a loved one are currently grappling with such an issue and believe you have a case, we’re happy to provide a detailed breakdown of your options at no cost.

All our personal injury lawyers operate on a no-win, no-fee basis and your initial consultation is always free. Contact us today and take advantage of the sort of expert, independent advice only a qualified compensation specialist can offer.

Call us now on 1800 004 878 to book a free appointment with one of my compensation experts, or email your enquiry.