Written on the 4 June 2015 by Jenna Rathbone


ALTHOUGH it is generally accepted that sporting players assume the risk of injury when they compete, it is evident that more athletes are apportioning blame and seeking opportunity for harms inflicted on the field.

Brisbane sport lawyer and former NRL player Tim Fuller (pictured below) says it is no longer the view that athletes should accept responsibility for untoward grievances that occur within the sporting arena, and more athletes are seeking legal action for injuries from concussions to paralysis. 

And it is not just the players who are taking the legal route, with sporting clubs also seeking compensation for star athletes who sustain season and career-ending injuries.

"Largely in the past there has been this prevailing acceptance that what happens on the field, stays on the field," says Fuller, of McInnes Wilson Lawyers.

"However, now there seems to be more and more scope, whether it is for an athlete or a club, to go down a particular road and seek compensation following a loss bearing injury."

Most recently Brisbane Lions player Michael Close sustained a season-ending ACL injury - an injury that was said to have been caused by the uneven AstroTurf at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne where the injury occurred.

The Brisbane team is left without a key forward and prompted the Lions to approach the AFL about possible compensation for the injury if the surface is found to be a contributing factor.

It has also been revealed that NRL player Alex McKinnon is considering legal action over the tackle that left him in a wheelchair. 

Although more than $1 million was raised for McKinnon, largely due to the support of the NRL and the rugby league community, Fuller says there is still undoubtedly the additional costs of ongoing care and treatment and the economic loss of wages.

Fuller says McKinnon is certainly within his rights to seek legal action and could seek compensation of up to $10 million. 

"You can see that it trickles down from someone like Alex McKinnon, who is now permanently disabled for life, through to Michael Close who will be out for a year and through to maybe a player who incurs a head knock and might be sidelined for three to four weeks," he says.

"All of these incidences feed into the fact that a league, a club and competing players all owe a duty of care to their fellow competitors."

Fuller adds that sporting leagues and clubs understand this mainly and have become more responsible in their handling of potential risky injuries.  For example, the NRL has cracked down on dangerous tackles including the shoulder charge and lifting tackles. 

"If a sport doesn't move with the times and doesn't address the way sport is policed or administered then suddenly there are huge concerns from a legal perspective if loss occurs due to negligent activity," says Fuller.

"It is absolutely incumbent on sports to be constantly looking at their rules and the risk-management strategies they have in place and constantly work towards ensuring that the sport operates in a safe environment and that the player's welfare is at the forefront."

Author: Jenna Rathbone
About: Jenna Rathbone is a Queensland-based journalist who writes on a range of issues including business and property affairs and social issues.
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