4 November 2021

Rugby League Players Follow Union Players in Bringing Claims for Early Onset Dementia

A claim is being brought against the Rugby Football League (RFL) by a group of 10 ex-professional rugby league players. The claim follows on from the announcement that in December 2020 a letter of claim had been sent in respect of rugby union players considered in this blog. This discussed the news that Rylands Law are bringing a group claim against World Rugby and various national governing bodies. They state that the claim is being brought on behalf of players at any level including both professional and amateur sportsmen. The letter of claim was sent in December 2020 setting out 24 different allegations against the governing bodies for a failure to protect the rugby playing community.

It appears that Rylands Law are now bringing a similar claim for Rugby League players and indeed their website also references similar claims for football and hockey players. However, these issues are likely to extend to a wide range of sports with boxing and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) being obvious examples. However, even sports including cricket have concussion related issues with an article yesterday highlighting that an Australian international cricketer, Will Pucovski, is unlikely to be available for the first Ashes test having been concussed in training, his 10th similar incident.

We will continue to monitor developments on this blog as they occur.

An Industrial Disease?

In addition, the Telegraph yesterday reported that dementia is being considered as an industrial disease in rugby. The Telegraph article addresses the recent diagnosis of New Zealand rugby union player, Carl Hayman who, at the age of 41, has become the latest high profile player to announce a diagnosis of early onset dementia having only retired in 2015.

In addition, it sets out that the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) are said to be considering whether neurodegenerative disease in a number of contact sports should be considered an industrial disease. The IIAC have widened their existing inquiry which focussed on football to a variety of contact sports which will inevitably include Rugby Union and League.

The IIAC had previously considered the position of neurodegenerative conditions in sportspeople in their Information Note in May 2016 but found that an absence of sufficiently robust or high quality research meant that the conditions considered could not be prescribed. However, research since that time has increased following the well-publicised Football's InfluencE on Lifelong health and Dementia risk (FIELD) research amongst other reports. It is understood that in light of this the IIACs position in respect of footballers was being reconsidered. This was discussed by the authors in a previous blog back in May where it was thought that other sports beyond football would soon be included in the IIAC’s research and that appears now to be the case.

The IIAC guidance as to which diseases are categorised as Prescribed Diseases is found here: How decisions are made about which diseases IIDB covers. The guidance sets out that a risk rating of 2 is required for a disease in a particular occupation to meet the requisite standard:

“people who work in a particular type of job or who are exposed to a particular hazard at work are more than twice as likely to develop a particular disease as members of the general public who do not work in that type of job and are not exposed to that hazard but are in other ways the same. To put it another way, the risk of the disease is doubled for those working in that type of job or exposed to that hazard at work. This is the minimum standard for prescribing a disease”.

Certainly, the IIAC note from May 2016 highlighted that certain research had identified a Risk Rating in excess of 2 but it may be that the quality of the more recent research is such that the IIAC adopts a new approach. Certainly, previous research in Italy which was considered by the IIAC in their 2016 note produced conclusions which broadly match the FIELD research. As discussed in our previous blog, the prescription of a condition as an industrial disease provides those affected with care and benefits for the injuries sustained.

It is however to be noted that the research undertaken to date has focussed more on football than rugby but there are a number of studies being undertaken which have been reported on in the last 12 months including rugby players being added to a study by the Alzheimer’s Society (Alzheimer's Study article), a study by the University of South Wales (ITV article) and various articles setting out the use of gumshields to monitor impacts in rugby the latest of which are to used for England vs New Zealand women’s rugby teams (Morning Star article).

Aside from the IIAC, it is often the case that industries will often provide their own compensation schemes such as the Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis Scheme. In America a scheme has paid out around £730 million to players impacted by neurodegenerative diseases. Closer to home, the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) announced last week that it had agreed a draft plan with the Premier League, the Football Association and the English Football League for a care fund for former players.

It appears that in a number of areas significant progress is coming and we will of course update you on this blog with any significant developments.

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Ropewalk Chambers

Ropewalk Chambers has, over many decades, established a market-leading reputation for detailed and specialist expertise in the field of Industrial Disease litigation.

Whether asbestos, noise, dust, vibration, stress or any other insidious process, including those which are newly emerging, its members have consistently appeared in the leading cases, determining the limits of liability, causation and quantum at first instance and appellate level.

Work is distributed within Chambers to enable Members of Chambers to represent both Claimants and Defendants in this field.

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