International Rugby Governing Body Facing Mounting Brain Injury Lawsuits
Rugby is one of the most dangerous sports and traumatic injuries are commonly suffered by rugby players. The University of Rochester Medical School describes traumatic injuries for rugby players as ”commonly sustained during collisions with other players and/or the ground during scrumming, rucking, and tackling.” Concussions are so common, in fact, that the World Rugby organization publishes a standardized document to help address any concussions.
Rugby Injury Lawsuits Filed
By the Summer of 2022, the Daily Mail reported that more than 180 former players of the sport had been diagnosed with some type of brain injury or cognitive disease and had filed an injury lawsuit against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and Welsh Rugby Union. At the tip of the spear was Plaintiff and Rugby Champion Steve Thompson. It has quickly become one of the largest international personal injury class actions in the world.
Legal Liability for Sports Injuries
So if a sport is as dangerous as rugby or football and the players have demonstratively suffered from traumatic irreversible injuries such as CTE or other neurological injuries, who is responsible? Is the NFL or World Rugby, RFU, etc. legally liable for these injuries? Are the players responsible for agreeing to engage in a dangerous sport? Do they truly understand the risk? These are some of the brewing legal questions at the center of a growing group of affected players.
These players, according to the Guardian, “include former captain Ryan Jones, World Cup champion Steve Thompson and Carl Hayman” and in principle are arguing that “the sport’s governing bodies were negligent in that they failed to take reasonable action to protect players from permanent injury caused by repetitive concussive and sub-concussive blows.” A pre-action letter of claim was issued to the same governing bodies on behalf of a group of nine players in December 2020.
Do Sports Players Assume the Risk of Injuries?
All sports contests have an “assumption of the risk” defense which is used against the participants.This defense centers around the knowledge of the players who are professionals in their sports. They understand that in most cases, serious injuries can occur, yet they continue to play the sport. They assume the risk of their injuries due to their participation. To overcome this defense, the players must show that they truly did not understand the risks in engaging in these sports. The Plaintiffs lawyers can always try to argue that the types of injuries sustained were not foreseeable and were beyond the risks that were known or assumed. In cases such as this, complex injury lawsuits may be required to determine whether or not the injured players should be barred from recovering.
For example, in Ohio, assumption of the risk doctrine explains how the concept might apply. The court explained in Ochall v. McNamer that “under the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, a plaintiff who voluntarily engages in a recreational activity or sporting event assumes the inherent risks of that activity and cannot recover for injuries sustained in engaging in the activity unless the defendant acted recklessly or intentionally in causing the injuries.” Courts applying Ohio law may be very hesitant to apply any liability because “courts apply the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk to cases involving sporting events and recreational activities, and generally extend the doctrine to relieve liability of owners, operators, and sponsors of recreational activities.”