Three former rugby players, including two former internationals, who have lodged High Court proceedings against the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) and World Rugby for damages, will be followed by other player proceedings according to the Dublin-based solicitors representing them.
Munster’s David Corkery, who played with Ireland in the 1990s, Declan Fitzpatrick from Ulster, who appeared for Ireland seven times, and Leinster’s Ben Marshall, who played for Leinster and Connacht and retired at 26-years-old, are seeking damages for injuries they claim they suffered while playing the game.
Further proceedings against the governing bodies will follow according to solicitors Maguire McClafferty LLP, of Dublin, who are acting for the players.
“A number of them [proceedings] are issued. That’s all I’m going to say, no more than that. There is going to be more,” said Manus McClafferty.
Mr McClafferty could not say how many more there are likely to be or nominate a proposed time frame.
The IRFU also issued a statement saying that matter of the three named players is now being handled by their insurers.
“As this is a legal matter it would be inappropriate to comment on these cases directly, which will now be handled by our insurers,” said the IRFU statement.
The legal action comes in tandem with proceedings issued by UK-based legal firm Rylands Law on behalf of a group of professional and semi-professional players against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU).
Rylands said their application for a group litigation order is the biggest “class action” lawsuit to be launched outside the United States. In all, Rylands represents more than 200 rugby union players aged in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
The issues for the Irish claimants are similar in nature to those of former rugby players in England and Wales, who have been diagnosed with early-onset dementia and other irreversible neurological impairments, which they claim were caused by playing rugby and receiving repeated blows to the head during their careers.
“People in rugby have been moved by the personal accounts of former players as reported in the media. Player welfare is of paramount importance to the IRFU and we are constantly reviewing safety protocols for all players,” added the IRFU statement.
“Our approach, based on scientific evidence, involves a commitment to ongoing education, monitoring and application of safety protocols across the game, including proactively managing elite player game time with a focus on injury prevention and oversight.”
Mr Marshall retired while he was playing professionally with Connacht Rugby.
“I don’t know how long that period was but it went on a while, weeks like,” he said in a 2017 interview. “I had trouble holding a conversation, had trouble going out in public and keeping my balance. I had big mood swings and it was tough on my girlfriend and family to deal with me during that time.
“The head pressure, the headaches, the concentration would go, the feeling of dislocation, that you’re kind of separated from your body. It’s a peculiar thing to explain.”
Mr Corkery in an interview earlier this year said he suffers from headaches and that some of the brain scans he has gone for have produced results that “have not been great”.
Mr Fitzpatrick’s last cap for Ireland came in a defeat to New Zealand in 2013 and in 2015 he spoke of how his family life had begun to suffer after a series of head injuries.
“When I went home I was trying to hide it from everybody,” he said. “There is so much going on in your mind. Sometimes you have a mild headache and you are thinking it will go away, but it doesn’t.”
A dozen or more professional rugby players in Ireland have retired due to concussion injuries.