Former NRL player successfully sues Surgeon after career ending ACL surgery goes wrong

Jun 5, 2023 | Publication

The New South Wales Supreme Court awarded damages to former NRL player, Lucas Miller, following his medical negligence claim against a French Orthopaedic Surgeon. The young and promising NRL player had stints with both the Newcastle Knights and Melbourne Storm. He later moved to France to further develop his career and played for St Gaudens. Whilst playing in France, he suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury during a match in December of 2010. He was admitted to Medipole Clinique Du Sort, where he underwent an ACL reconstruction by the defendant. Following his rehabilitation, he returned to Australia in the hopes of returning to the NRL. 

However, he continued to suffer from discomfort post-surgery, and whilst training with West Newcastle Club in September 2011, he collapsed from pain in his knee. This led to his referral to Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr Caldwell, who confirmed he had suffered a complex tear of the medial meniscus and showed problems with the ACL graft. He underwent surgery on another 3 occasions, but ultimately could not return to the fitness and strength required for first grade football. He brought claims against the French surgeon, seeking damages. 

As with many medical negligence cases, the findings turned on expert evidence. The Court was persuaded by the evidence of the plaintiff’s expert evidence of consultant orthopaedic surgeon Dr Journeaux. The Court found in favour of the plaintiff, finding that there the ACL reconstruction was performed in a poor manner. 

Damages were assessed with heads of damages such as loss of earning capacity, and future out-of-pocket expenses. The Court assessed these damages at a significant amount, concluding that the plaintiff had a budding career ahead of him in the NRL. 

The evidence established that as a teenager, the plaintiff was considered to be a rugby league footballer of some ability. Michael Hagan, the former Director of Football at the Knights and a man of great experience in rugby league, gave the following evidence which was not challenged:

“At the time Lucas was in the junior squads with the Knights he would train with the NRL team. This is when I got to look at his ability, skill-set and temperament. He had a good work ethic. He was dedicated, professional and very competent at rugby league. For his age he was meeting all key criteria and was a good team member.

Lucas Miller was coachable – which means he responded to feedback to improve his game.”

I’m aware that players who establish themselves in the French competition are sometimes picked up by the English Super League or other competitions which can lead to much higher salaries than the French competition Lucas Miller was playing in. Lucas Miller was probably a mid-range player and his salary would have reflected this.”

The decision is also novel in that the Court applied the law of France to both issues of breach of duty of care and assessment of damages.

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