News and Events

Landmark Study Into Rugby-Related Head Injuries Announced

Beginning in New Zealand from mid-April 2021, over 700 men and women rugby players will take part in a “landmark” study on brain impact injuries.  The research is being run by World Rugby– the game’s governing body.

World Rugby’s chief medical officer, Dr Éanna Falvey, told The Guardian that the study’s scale would provide the largest set of data to compare the nature and frequency of head impacts in any sport.

“Player welfare continues to be our top priority,” he said. “By continually commissioning and partnering in research, we can make evidence-based decisions that will advance our understanding of injuries in the sport and more importantly, inform the moves that we can make to reduce them.”

News of the study follows a report that eight former rugby players, including Steve Thompson, are bringing legal proceedings against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union in England, and the Welsh Rugby Union over what the players claim is the organisations’ failure to protect them from the risks caused by concussions.  All the Claimants are under 45 and have been diagnosed with dementia with probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), for which the only known cause is repeated blows to the head.  The diagnosis is ‘probable’ because CTE can only be conclusively diagnosed by analysing the patient’s brain after death. 

The Solicitor acting for the Claimants says he is in touch with more than 100 other former rugby union and rugby league players who have reported symptoms of probable CTE.

What is CTE and how is it linked to early-onset dementia?

Formally known as ‘punch-drunk’ syndrome, CTE was formally thought to affect only boxers who took repeated blows to the head and face during their careers.  However, the progressive brain condition is now known to affect rugby players, football players, and other athletes who regularly experience head trauma and suffer multiple concussions.  Athletes are not the only group of people at risk - military personnel who endure blast injuries and long-term domestic violence victims can also develop CTE.

The symptoms of CTE begin gradually and include:

  • Short-term memory loss.
  • Mood swings, depression, and anxiety.
  • Episodes of confusion and disorientation.
  • Being unable to think clearly and make decisions.

As the condition progresses the symptoms become worse, eventually leading to dementia.

In 2013, a neuropathologist examined the brain tissue of a boxer and a rugby player, looking for abnormal proteins associated with head injuries and dementia.  The rugby player, aged in his 50s who had suffered from early-onset dementia had higher levels of the proteins than the amateur boxer.

The neuropathologist told the BBC:

"I think on current evidence coming from American studies, from looking at American football, our historical evidence looking at boxers throughout the world, I think it would be foolish to think there will be no problem and that rugby is immune from brain damage.

"What the numbers are, what proportion of people who play rugby, how often you may have to get concussed, how long after you may develop problems, these are questions we can't answer.

"We would suspect it would be a fairly low number, but not a zero number. Let's say it is 1% of people who are playing rugby at international level may go on to develop long-term problems.

"In any Six Nations weekend that is one or two players who may go on and develop a dementia they wouldn't otherwise have been exposed to. That is a realistic number."

What are the consequences for rugby if negligence claims related to CTE and early-onset dementia are successful?

Steve Thompson told The Guardian that he cannot remember winning the Rugby World Cup and would never allow his children to play the sport under its current rules.  It is thought that if successful, the multi-party claim could open the door to a tsunami of contact sport related brain injury claims with ex-players seeking compensation for the repercussions they are suffering, the impact on their employment prospects, and the cost of care they and their families will likely incur in the years to come.

Claiming compensation for CTE and early-onset dementia

If you have been diagnosed with probable CTE and/or early-onset dementia and you believe your disease was caused as a result of the concussions you received playing professional rugby or another type of contact sport, talk to a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.  There are strict time limits for bringing a personal injury compensation claim.  A Life Changing Injuries Solicitor can not only advise and represent you, but they will also push for early admission of liability so funds can be secured to pay for rehabilitation.

 Our Life Changing Injuries team is headed by Jon Rees who is a Fellow of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers.  Our Solicitors are recognised for their determination to get the highest compensation award for their clients and their sensitivity and compassion when dealing with the victims of life changing injuries and families.

To talk to Jon in the strictest confidence, please call him on 01788 557617.