James McManus sought in excess of $1 million in his landmark concussion case against Newcastle, but will walk away empty-handed after the matter was resolved in the Knights’ favour.
McManus began Supreme Court action against Newcastle in 2017 over the handling of his head knocks, but the parties settled the matter before the hearing was scheduled to commence on Monday. The outcome is a resounding victory for the Knights and, by extension, the NRL.
“The claim brought by James McManus against the Newcastle Knights, which was managed by the NRL, has been finalised with the NSW Supreme Court ordering judgment for the Knights,” the NRL said in a statement.
“The NRL is pleased that this long-running matter has been resolved in the Knights’ favour.
“The NRL was confident in its defence of the claim under the Civil Liability Act and we are pleased that the matter could be resolved without further cost and expense for all parties.”
The parties have agreed to cover their respective legal costs, which may result in McManus emerging relatively unscathed if his lawyers took the case on a no-win, no-fee basis.
James McManus during his playing days with the Knights in 2015.Credit:Getty
McManus became the first Australian sportsperson to launch legal action against a sporting club in a case closely scrutinised by the legal and sporting fraternities. Former Parramatta forward Brett Horsnell followed suit several months later, but ultimately abandoned the action, stating: “I don’t need the drama”.
Several legal firms have attempted to commence a class action lawsuit on behalf of former players for the handling of their concussions. However, potential plaintiffs may be dissuaded given the outcome of the McManus matter.
McManus’ lawyers had claimed that the 35-year-old had suffered seven concussions between March 7 and July 27 in 2015 and that he had suffered post-concussion syndrome, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and frontal-lobe damage.
Now, further details have emerged about the health problems McManus is experiencing since his retirement from the game.
A court document obtained by The Sun-Herald, filed on behalf of the plaintiff, estimates his life expectancy is just 53.22 years.
At the time of McManus’ retirement, he was earning $270,000 a year and court documents claimed he would have continued to earn that amount up until the end of this year had he been able to continue playing in England.
McManus’ claim was calculated based on lost earnings, a raft of medical bills, the costs associated with the care he requires and his reduced capacity to earn an income in the future.
“The plaintiff’s CTE and other injuries are progressive and degenerative,” a court document states.
“Therefore, the plaintiff’s capacity to engage in paid employment, and his ability to compete in the open market, will diminish over time. The plaintiff is presently aged 35 years. But for his injuries, the plaintiff would have worked to the age of 67 years …
“As a consequence of his injuries the plaintiff’s earning capacity has been reduced, so that now he can only generally work 3-4 days per week on a regular basis.”
The document provided a long list of McManus’ disabilities, which included cognitive impairment, impairment of memory, severe depression, anxiety, lethargy, sleep disturbance, reduced capacity to engage in a marital relationship, reduced inhibition, impulsiveness, verbal outbursts, “possible features of parkinsonian development likely to occur” and the risk of long-term dementia.
Loss of income was calculated at $718,250, while non-economic loss was judged to be $343,500, bringing McManus’ total claim to $1,061,750.
However, the Knights have avoided a payout and the NRL’s concussion protocols – and whether one of its clubs properly followed them – now won’t be tested in court.
The Newcastle Herald recently reported that the Knights would not have been liable regardless, as the Wests Group insisted the NRL indemnify the club against potential actions launched by players under the previous regime when they took over in 2017.
Had the hearing gone ahead, some of the game’s biggest names could have been asked to testify. Former Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett was the Knights coach from 2012 to 2014, a period that includes one of the incidents McManus intended to raise in court. The seven-time premiership-winning mentor had previously stated he expected to be subpoenaed.
Knights legend Danny Buderus would likely have been called as well, given he was the blue shirt trainer on occasions when McManus allegedly suffered blows to the head, which his lawyers claim should have resulted in him coming from the field. Other Newcastle identities – including former chief executive Matt Gidley and former club doctors – would likely also have taken the stand.
The Australian Rugby League Commission recently also withstood a landmark legal challenge launched by premiership-winning prop Michael Greenfield over its handling of shoulder charges.
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