Insurers should brace themselves for a large number of former football players seeking compensation for head injuries that have led to dementia.
The warning has come from Michelle Crorie, head of accident and health at law firm Clyde & Co, following the publication of a new study by University College London (UCL) on dementia among retired professional footballers. The study looked at 14 retired footballers with dementia who were referred to the Old Age Psychiatry Service in Swansea, Wales, between 1980 and 2010. Permission from next-of-kin was provided to perform post-mortem examinations on six of the ex-players. Evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a potential cause of dementia caused by repeated blows to the head, was found in the brains of the former players.
Crorie said that the study was the most significant one to date that linked dementia in later life to small but regular impacts that professional footballers sustain to their heads over time. She said that boxing had already shown that repeated blows to the skull could cause dementia but that it had not been appreciated, up until now, that a career of heading the ball and collisions with other players, could have the same effect.
“More scientific study is needed, but we appear to be moving inexorably towards a situation in which large numbers of former players – and perhaps current players – may seek compensation for the toll the game has taken on them,” said Crorie.
“Claims pursued in relation to historical incidents bring with them the search for old insurance policies and, where there is a cumulative effect across a long period of time, issues of allocation across a range of years.”
She added that there was also significant concern about current players given the speed that the ball travels.
“This needs to be the subject of further medical studies but no doubt clubs and the FA will reflect on this and insurers will want to consider how this could impact the range of insurances they provide,” she added.