A group of former players from the AFL men’s and women’s competitions are suing the AFL over the long-term effects of concussion injuries they sustained while playing. It’s the first time a class action of this kind has been brought against the AFL. A class action is a lawsuit that is brought on behalf of multiple people, who are suing against a defendant for the same or similar reasons.
Concussion in Sport
There is growing awareness about the severe long-term health consequences from concussion (brain) injuries sustained in sport. Of particular concern is the prevalence among athletes of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease caused in part by repeated brain injuries. CTE symptoms often begin years after the injuries are sustained. Long-term symptoms can include severe depression and dementia. CTE has been diagnosed in many former athletes worldwide who have died by suicide.
About 10 years ago, the U.S. NFL agreed to a financial settlement after a class action was brought forward by thousands of former players over concussion injuries. The final settlement was worth about $US1 billion and the average payout for players diagnosed with dementia was about $US600,000. Concussion issues have been raised prominently in both the AFL and NRL, but this is the first time a major class action has been brought against either major Australian code.
There have been several high profile cases of CTE in former AFL players. They include former St Kilda player Danny Frawley who died in 2019 when his car hit a tree, and former Richmond player and professional boxer Shane Tuck, who died in 2020. Both men were diagnosed with CTE after their deaths (CTE can only be diagnosed in an autopsy).
Margalit Injury Lawyers will be representing the athletes in the class action. In an interview on the ABC, Managing Principal Michel Margalit said emerging science had helped to establish a link between ongoing symptoms and injuries sustained while playing. The players will seek compensation for loss of earnings and ongoing suffering due to their injuries, which Margalit expects to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The AFL told TDA it took concussion and brain health “extremely seriously”. The AFL has made a series of recent changes to its concussion identification and management protocols, including mandatory testing and recovery periods. It has also strengthened rules penalising high contact and tackles that endanger the head. The AFL says it is part of an ongoing international process to improve concussion management in sport. It is also considering options to introduce a financial assistance scheme for former players affected by serious injuries. Despite these recent changes, concussion continues to be an issue in the AFL. Two current men’s players – Adelaide’s Paul Seedsman and Brisbane’s Marcus Adams – were this year placed on their clubs’ inactive lists due to ongoing concussion symptoms.