Shaun Smith’s landmark insurance payout for the crippling brain injuries he suffered while playing football is only “the tip of the iceberg”.
Shaun Smith’s landmark insurance payout for the crippling brain injuries he suffered while playing football is only “the tip of the iceberg”.

Footy player's ‘game-changing’ concussion damages payout

Mark of the Century high-flyer Shaun Smith has won a historic $1.4 million concussion damages payout because of crippling brain injuries suffered while playing football.

Smith's insurance company, MLC, paid the money on Thursday after recognising he had suffered a "total and permanent disablement" (TPD) as a result of repeated head knocks.

The landmark decision, which follows revelations St Kilda legend Danny Frawley was suffering from Stage II CTE at the time of his death last year, could set a precedent for thousands of future claims across football and other contact sports.

A teary Smith, who was knocked out numerous times during his 109-game career with Melbourne and North Melbourne between 1987-1998, said: "This just proves that concussion is real - that we are not just making this stuff up. I'm only the tip of the iceberg."

 

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Front page on February 2, 2020.
Front page on February 2, 2020.

But the veteran player agent who drove Smith's case believes the majority of past and present AFL players would not qualify for similar payments due the terms of their policies with the game's main insurer, AMP, unless they had crippling conditions such as motor neurone disease or advanced Parkinson's disease.

Agent Peter Jess said the AFL must now address the compensation issue as a matter of urgency.

"This should be the game changer," Mr Jess said.

"It means you have independent medical experts who say that you can be totally and permanently disabled as a result of multiple concussions suffered while playing AFL football.

"But if Shaun was insured with AMP he would not have been paid a cent."

Mr Jess said he had acted for another recently retired AFL player insured by AMP seeking access to a TPD payout as a result of multiple concussions, whose claim was unsuccessful.

Smith, 51, said he also hoped the decision would help the many male and female footballers from local and sub-elite leagues presenting with similar issues.

"There are so many others out there who are struggling and deserve to be looked after because it's not like a knee injury where you walk around with a limp - it affects everything you do. The way you think and the way you act. It's not the best," he said.

"But hopefully this will help the others that are out there, too.

"I'm eternally grateful to Peter Jess. The guy has saved my life, really. Not just with the financial side of things but making me realise that I'm not stupid or going crazy.

"Everyone was sympathetic but Pete was like, 'No, this is bullsh-t'."

Smith goes high for the mark against Brisbane. Picture: Channel 7
Smith goes high for the mark against Brisbane. Picture: Channel 7

Smith took out personal insurance cover with MLC about 25 years ago and recently won a separate case for the early release of his superannuation from Cbus Super, which accepted independent medical advice declaring that he is incapable of ever returning to the workforce.

The horrifying toll of AFL concussions was laid bare in a medical report detailing the extent of Smith's brain injuries last year.

Incapable of working again, he requires lifelong treatment and daily medication.

The gruesome medical report describes numerous lesions and "deep white matter" on his brain and symptoms including depression, pervasive suicidal ideation, feelings of hopelessness, social withdrawal, insomnia, and poor short-term memory.

Smith has appealed to players such as St Kilda's concussion-plagued No. 1 draft pick Paddy McCartin to walk from football and safeguard their quality of life.

Smith's famous leap against the Brisbane Lions over teammate Garry Lyon at the Gabba in 1995 was declared the Mark of the Century.

Smith says his payout is the “tip of the iceberg”. Picture: Alex Coppel
Smith says his payout is the “tip of the iceberg”. Picture: Alex Coppel

The Herald Sun last month revealed an analysis of Frawley's brain had been handed to the Victorian Coroner showing the St Kilda legend was suffering from Stage II CTE - chronic traumatic encephalopathy - when his four-wheel drive struck a tree in Millbrook, near Ballan, on September 9 last year.

The brain condition, which is associated with repeated blows to the head and causes memory loss, personality changes, aggression and depression, can only be diagnosed after death.

Frawley is the second VFL/AFL player to be diagnosed with CTE after footy great Graham "Polly" Farmer, who died in August last year.

An AMP spokesman said: "We regularly review the insurance we provide to ensure levels of cover and definitions are consistent with industry standards, including recognising the physical nature of AFL football."

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michael.warner@news.com.au

 

Originally published as Smith's 'game-changing' concussion damages payout

Front page on September 1, 2020.
Front page on September 1, 2020.
Smith is carried from the ground by trainers with an injured back.
Smith is carried from the ground by trainers with an injured back.

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