NRL set to be hit with concussion class action
THE NRL's handling of concussion is set to come under further scrutiny with two major law forms announcing they are talking to senior players and planning to launch a class action suit.
In an extraordinary development for the code, Sydney-based law firms Bannister Law and Cahill Lawyers have been conducting joint investigations into incidents of player concussion over the past 12-months.
The investigation includes determining whether the rules of the game do not take or implement reasonable precautions to protect player safety from concussion.
They are also exploring the causes of post-retirement medical issues among numerous former NRL players.
The firms have gone public following revelations that CTE - the brain disease associated with repetitive head knocks - has been found in two former rugby league players.
They say "many of the symptoms experienced by these players are consistent with CTE".
Director of Cahill Lawyers Thomas Cahill said the two firms had been in contact with many senior players over an extended period, and all had serious concerns about the health of their brain.
They say there are two aspects to their case.
"First, whether the rules took sufficient steps to protect players against concussion incidents," a statement read.
"Second, whether the rules and safety protocols were actually implemented properly to provide a safe playing environment against concussion events and to allow players time to recover from concussion incidents without sustaining permanent injury."
The firms are encouraging former players with concerns about their health to join the class action.
"The structures that have evolved within the NRL through the progression of the game mean that we are looking at the clubs' and associations' liability for what are, we will allege, reasonably preventable brain injuries," principal of Bannister Law Charles Bannister said.
"We will also allege that ARL, NRL and the clubs have had the resources both medical and paramedical to understand and implement protocols and policies that could and should have protected player welfare long before they were introduced."
Cahill said the movie Concussion should be mandatory viewing for all current and retired rugby league players.
"It will help them understand many of the symptoms of CTE but also the organisational resistance that can exist in facing up to the problem," Cahill said.
"Players' welfare ought to be paramount."
CTE first came to prominence in America after a number of NFL players reported the issue in retirement.
The NFL eventually settled a class action after a group of former players took the organisation to court. As of last year, more than $US500 million in claims had been approved under the NFL's concussion settlement.
There are distinct differences between the two sports. As of now, CTE has been found in only two former NRL players, both of whom played more than 150 games in first grade.
Furthermore, the NFL actively denied the seriousness of head knocks despite being in possession of evidence to the contrary.
In contrast, the NRL has been on the front foot on the issue of concussion. In recent years, it has banned the shoulder charge and brought in strict protocols around the handing of head knocks.