Claims For The Psychological Effects of Loss of Ability to Play Sport

By Tim Kevan, Barrister and Dr Hugh Koch, Chartered Clinical Psychologist "Some people think football is a matter of life and deathÖI can assure you that it is much more serious than that."

Bill Shankley, 1973.


Until recently, very little has been written on the subject of sports personal injuries. However, following the publication this month of the first textbook on the subject, Sports Personal Injuries by Kevan, Adamson and Cottrell3, this is unlikely to continue. This is particularly so given that it has been estimated that there are between six million and nineteen million new sporting injuries in this country each year costing some £500 million in treatment and absence from work4. With the growth of conditional fees and the possibility of compulsory insurance schemes for amateur sportsmen such as the 500,000 amateur footballers in this country, the number of sports injury cases is only likely to increase.

The psychological effects of people not being able to play their particular sports is a developing area.

The law has long recognised the importance of sport to person's lives. As Swift J said in Cleghorn v Oldham5:

"Games might be and [are] the serious business of life to many people. It would be extraordinary to say that people could not recover from injuries sustained in the business of life, whether that was football, or motor racing, or any other of those pursuits which were instinctively classed as games but which everyone knew quite well to be serious business transactions for the persons engaged therein."

However, the difficulty is whether the law would go as far as to recognise the loss of ability to play sport as a separate injury in itself. In Nicholls v Rushton6, the Court of Appeal held that a claimant involved in a motor accident who had no physical injury but who suffered a nervous reaction falling short of an identifiable psychological illness could not recover damages.

The purpose of this article is to examine this head of damage in more detail. Specifically, we point out that this in fact constitutes a distinct psychological injury and then go on to examine how compensation for such an injury should be assessed.

Psychological Injury

An injury which prevents someone from doing their sport and results in "pain suffering and loss of amenity, chance or enjoyment" can result in significant psychological symptoms and disorder. This is as much for a passionate amateur sportsman as it is for a professional sportsman.

The most likely disorders, are classified in DSM IV (APA, 1994), the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and include:

Depressive Disorders.

Anxiety Disorders (sports-related, social, generalised/panic).

Mixed Pain Disorders.

Sleep Disorders.

Psychosexual Disorders.

These symptom clusters need to be seen in the context of the claimants' pre-existing psychological state including his or her personality type, not withstanding taking the claimant "as one finds him". Typical psychological symptoms include:

Stress symptoms (fear of further injury, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, avoidance of conversations about sport and sport observation).

Mood disturbance (low mood, tearfulness, irritability, loss of libido).

Social anxieties (avoidance of sporting friends and sporting events).

Effect on close relationships (anger management, loss of sexual function).

Chronic Pain Behaviour (interaction between pain tolerance and mood variability).

In order to raise such a claim, it will be necessary for claimants to obtain a medical and preferably a psychological assessment in this regard.

Quantum In General

So far, quantum of this type of...

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