It doesn’t seem all that long ago since we were writing about the possible group action by rugby players alleging that they have developed dementia of various types due to brain injuries sustained in the game over many years of their career. They are alleging that the governing bodies did not do enough to protect them from injury. Footballers are also beginning to question the tactic of heading the ball as dementia is being seen there as well.
Ringrose’s Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence department has two passionate cyclists in John Knight and Richard Teare and solicitor Brenda Gilligan has been involved with horses and riding for most of her life. Both these sports also carry a high risk of head injury.
Eventer Harry Meade fell from his horse while competing in October 2020 and broke an arm and suffered a head injury. He is planning on returning to competition this month, but it has not been easy. Harry’s website says he is feeling a lot better, but:
“He twice started riding and twice had to back off, but is now on a consistent path and coping well. It’s been a fairly grim and humbling few months for Harry – unfortunately with a head injury a simple determination to push through is futile – but he’s now the other side of the main difficulties he was faced with”
“Whilst he’s largely recovered and to the outside looks and sounds himself, he’s still limited by his mental stamina. The neural fatigue he has been experiencing is incomparable to any sort of normal tiredness – the brain starts to shut down with very little warning and the only remedy is to go straight to sleep. However, we are thankful that the thinking part of his brain has been unaffected”
This is so true of many head injuries. They can be very subtle in how the injured person presents to the outside world, yet the practical effects are very real and very disabling. They present a challenge as legal claims. A Claimant may to all intents and purposes look as if they are functioning, but what you won’t see is the preparation that goes into carrying out what to us are every day actions and the aftermath, which can be, as Harry says, is the need to just fall asleep, or rest for even two or three days. The “mental stamina” and “neural fatigue” are unseen but genuine.
However, because they are not immediately visible, as are physical injuries, Claimants with brain injuries can be unfairly accused of exaggerating their injuries or malingering, or even presenting a dishonest claim. For someone struggling to do their best to do what they can, this just adds insult to injury – literally.
Diagnosis can be difficult and very often it is family and friends who notice “something not quite right” that suggests the possibility of a head injury or brain damage, even where medical investigations and tests appear clear.
However, there is now a move to examine the link between sports and brain injuries. On 3 March 2021, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee opened the Concussion in Sport Inquiry for this purpose. It is to consider scientific evidence for links between head trauma and dementia and how risks could be mitigated. The inquiry will not consider material involved in on-going legal proceedings, but it will consider potential implications of successful legal action and what impact that could have on sport in the longer term.
It will also take evidence on the implications for youth sport, funding for further scientific research, and the role of national governing bodies and major sporting organisations in ensuring member clubs receive up to date medical advice and promote good practice, hearing from individual players and governing bodies and what their role and responsibilities should be towards players.
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We do NOT want to see sport restricted or stopped. This last pandemic year has shown us the importance of sport and exercise in relation to mental and physical health. We want to see more people taking part in sports because it is safer for them to do so. We can never eliminate all risks in sport and again, wouldn’t want to, as it is the risk element that is part of the excitement and fun of sport.
But we DO want to see unnecessary risks reduced and eliminated where possible and for better on site and longer- term medical care and rehabilitation to be provided.
As solicitors, we know that sometimes the only way that these can be accessed is by making a legal claim for compensation. If someone can be proved or admits to negligence and it can be shown that the injuries caused are a result of that negligence, then the often millions of pounds needed for proper support and care can be provided.
Money won’t put the clock back; it can’t undo injuries. But it can help with giving an injured person a better crack at leading as full a life as they can.
Our Senior Director and Head of Department John Knight is a parent of a teenager with a brain injury and knows only too well what it is like coping on a day to day basis.
Brenda Gilligan is a member of the Medical Equestrian Association, a group of doctors and allied professions who all have an interest in equestrianism and promoting safety in riding and proper medical care on hand immediately for riders in case of injury. They are particularly interested in the effects of concussion, often dismissed as “only mild concussion”. Head and brain injuries are not “mild”.
We can help
If you have, or someone you know has suffered a head injury in an accident, or even if you’re not sure, contact one of our team for a informal discussion on 01522 561020 or email firstname.lastname@example.org