McManus, Knights on verge of settling landmark concussion case

Rugby league’s first landmark concussion case – which had the potential to put some of the biggest names in the game on the stand and set a legal precedent for the code – won’t proceed to a hearing.

Former Newcastle winger James McManus commenced legal proceedings against the Knights in 2017 over the handling of his head knocks, but the parties are on the verge of a settlement. The case was scheduled to be heard in the Supreme Court from September 20, however the parties informed the court that substantive proceedings had been settled.

A motion before the court has been discontinued and the parties now only need to file the terms of the settlement, so the hearing dates can be vacated and the case officially closed.

The settlement details are expected to remain confidential.

“I’m just not able to comment on the matter at all,” McManus told the Herald via text. “I’m glad that I can move on and concentrate on my family and the treatment and management of my neurological issues, but I just can’t say any more.”

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”.

James McManus during his playing days.Credit:Getty

The NRL recently withstood a separate legal challenge launched by premiership-winning prop Michael Greenfield over its handling of shoulder charges in another case.

Tim Fuller, a former first-grade player and now a lawyer at Gadens, believed the outcome was positive for the NRL even though the governing body wasn’t directly a party to proceedings.

“In respect to the out-of-court and confidential settlement, it is suggested that the NRL would be satisfied with this outcome,” Fuller said.

“The concussion protocols of the game will, at this point in time, not be tested in court as to whether they are sufficiently robust enough to prevent player harm and loss from concussion-related incidents.

“The NRL will continue to develop and improve their concussion protocols and measures for the safety and wellbeing of all rugby league participants.”

‘I’m glad that I can move on and concentrate on my family and the treatment and management of my neurological issues.’

The NRL, the Knights and lawyers acting for the respective parties declined to comment.

Several legal firms have declared their intention to launch a concussion class action against the NRL, but haven’t been able to find the requisite number of plaintiffs.

According to documents tabled to the court, McManus’ legal team claimed he suffered seven concussions between March 7 and July 27, 2005. The former NSW winger was seeking damages, costs and interest after suffering from post-concussion syndrome, chronic traumatic encephalopathy and frontal-lobe damage. He listed a raft of ongoing health issues including loss of concentration, memory deficits, mood swings, headaches, anxiety, depression, lethargy, impulsivity, inappropriate communication and sleep disturbance.

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.

Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys named concussion protocols and management as one of his main areas of focus when he took on the role in October 2019.

The NRL launched a mid-season crackdown on contact with the head and neck in a bid to further protect the safety of players. The decision was initially met with frustration from some fans and stars over concerns players were being taken from the field for minimal or incidental contact.

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