FORMER Knights winger James McManus has claimed a significantearly victoryin hislegal battle to prove the club was negligent in its handling of a series of concussions that ended his career.
The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that McManus’s lawyers were entitled tosubpoenamedicalrecordsrelating toincidents involvingformer teammatesRichie Fa’aoso and Robbie Rochow, along with the game-day diaries of ex-Newcastle coaches Rick Stone and Wayne Bennett.
McManus’slawyers argued suchinformation was essential“to establish that his position is not unique and that other players have been treated … in the way that he contends he was treated and which, on his case, amounted to a breach of duty causing damage”.
Lawyers representingthe Knightsfiled a motion arguing that permission to accessmaterial relating to Fa’aoso and Rochowshould be“set aside” because“there can be no legitimate forensic purpose in the material that is sought”.
But in a decision announced on Monday, Justice Ian Harrison ruled that McManus’s proposed subpoena“does have a legitimate forensic purpose” and dismissed the notice of motion filed by the defence, awarding costs to McManus.
Moreover, Justice Harrison ruled that there was“potential significance of specific cases showing how the defendants treated similarly injured players in the past”.
McManuslaunched his landmark case in February, arguing that he was forced into premature retirement and left with“traumatic brain injury” after suffering repeatedconcussions.
He has alleged that on a number of occasions he suffered“severe” head injuries and symptoms but was allowed to continue playing, even though the Knights“knew or ought to have known” that would expose him to“the cumulative effects of further concussive injuries and foreseeable permanent brain damage”.
He is suing two companies–Newcastle Knights Pty Ltd, which was owned by Nathan Tinkler and is in liquidation, andKnights Rugby League Pty Ltd, the company formed when Tinkler was removed as the owner of Newcastle’s NRL franchise in 2014.
The incidents involving Fa’aoso and Rochow occurred two years apart, and McManus played in both games.
In a loss to Manly in March, 2011,Fa’aoso was knocked senselessand continued to play after stumbling around, trying toregain his footing.
LAW SUIT: James McManus.
The following day, coach Rick Stone arguedFa’aoso was a player capable of recovering quickly from a head knock, but the incident prompted the NRL to almost immediatelytighten concussion protocols.
“Richie can look untidy when he gets knocked out but he comes to fairly quickly,” Stone said at the time. “Sometimes giving a bloke a couple of minutes to clear his head doesn’t look good on TV but … I wanted to give him a minute or two to reassess where he was at.”
Stone conceded, in hindsight, he should have replaced Fa’aoso.
“For player safety, Richie probably should have come straight off on the weekend, there’s no doubt about that,” Stone said.
“If I had my time again, I would definitely do that. But sometimes you leave them out there to see if they can get back into the gameandyou don’t have to make an interchange.”
Fa’aoso played a week later against St George Illawarra.
Two years later, playing against Penrith in round 19, 2013, Rochow suffered two head knocks in the space of 14 minutes and coach Bennett was criticised for not replacing him.
At the time, Bennett referred to the critics as“drama queens, saying:‘I don’t really need a whole lot of procedures for me to do the right thing by players withconcussion.
“I’ve done it all my coaching life, so there’s no chance that those players will play on the weekend if there’s any doubt about their health.’’
Rochow played the following week against Sydney Roosters.
Meanwhile, Newcastle’s current co-captain, Sione Mata’utia, will have to pass concussion tests to play against Canberra on Friday. He wasreplaced after a head knock in Saturday’s 44-12 loss to Melbourne.
It was the third time this season the 21-year-old has been replaced in a game and not allowed to return after a head-injury assessment.