We see it all the time – people doing violent things on
the sports field that they would be arrested for if they did it
anywhere else. We see punches, body slams, tackles around the neck,
elbows in the face, gang tackles to bring an opponent crashing to
the ground, even deliberate attempts to maim or injure by targeting
knees or ankles.
We call it sport, and we cheer a hard tackle. After all, what
happens on the field stays on the field, right? After the game
everyone is meant just to shake hands and walk away. Unfortunately,
however, not everyone walks away.
We see injured children carted off the school sports field to
polite applause. We cheer when bulked up professional players pull
off huge tackles that bring down a gifted opponent. But what
happens afterwards? What if they have serious injuries that will
affect them for years?
NRL player confined to wheelchair following spinal injury
sustained on sports field
The problem of personal injury sustained on the sporting field
could be in the public eye this year after a professional rugby
league player said he would sue for what happened to him on the
Newcastle Knights Rugby League player Alex McKinnon is reported
to have said he will take legal action against the NRL for a tackle
that left him paralysed in 2014. McKinnon reportedly said that he
will seek compensation not just from the NRL, but also Melbourne
Storm player Jordan McLean, who speared him into the ground with
two others in an incident that left McKinnon confined to a
The case could open a Pandora's box of legal quandaries that
could have a huge impact on sport, both amateur and
Sports governing bodies, employers, coaches and players could
all be liable
If such a case gets to court, it could raise fundamental legal
questions about the way we administer and even play sport in this
country. Such questions include:
Can a sports governing body be held responsible for an injury
to a player?
Does a player accept that risk of injury is an inherent part of
Is a sports employer legally liable because the behaviour that
led to the injury was encouraged?
If a coach directed his or her players to "take out"
a particular opponent or use a tackling technique designed to
injure, could the coach be held legally liable for what
Should a player who deliberately sets out to injure or maim an
opponent on the sports field be subject to criminal
Should McKinnon only be covered by workers' compensation,
just like any other employee injured in the workplace? After all,
he was employed to play rugby league and he was injured at work
playing the game. Why should athletes be treated any differently
from an injured mechanic or farm worker?
Grossly inadequate payouts to the injured under NSW government
According to the State Insurance Regulatory Authority's Workers compensation benefits guide, in NSW a person
with a spinal cord impairment similar to McKinnon's is limited
to a one-off workers compensation lump sum payment of just
The NRL gave McKinnon $500,000 in compensation plus $1.2 million
towards his medical costs and promised him a job for life. However,
a person with McKinnon's spinal injury will have to pay
millions of dollars for many years to come in medical costs,
modifications to the family home, vehicle, transport and
Whatever the outcome of the McKinnon case, one thing is clear:
the compensation for incapacitating injuries offered through the
NSW government scheme is grossly inadequate.
These cases provide some guidance as to how the courts have approached the assessment of damages in nervous shock claims.
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