A group of ex-AFL stars suing the league and their clubs for concussion damage may have their claims merged, as lawyers call for the cases to be sped up.
Lawyers for former players Ty Zantuck, Liam Picken, Gary Ablett Sr, and two class actions involving Max Rooke and Shane Tuck faced the first Supreme Court of Victoria hearing about their cases on Wednesday.
All of the suits, except Zantuck’s, have been brought against the AFL along with clubs including the Western Bulldogs, Richmond, Geelong, Melbourne, Adelaide and Hawthorn.
Among their claims, the players are seeking compensation for the impact of concussions on them during and post-their AFL careers.
Zantuck, Picken and Ablett have asked the court to allow them to pursue their suits individually, rather than as a group.
However, Justice John Dixon encouraged their legal teams to explore merging the claims, as they will overlap and explore similar issues.
“There are not going to be multiple trials of the same issue,” the judge said.
Picken’s barrister Tim Tobin SC said the former Bulldog would opt-out of a group proceeding as he didn’t face the same issues as the others.
That case will centre on Picken allegedly returning to the field despite failing concussion tests, he said.
But the AFL’s lawyer Philip Crutchfield KC said Picken’s suit should be joined with others as it included claims the AFL did not provide sufficient education to the clubs or players about concussion management.
Ablett Sr’s lawyers asked for his case to also be heard separately because his time period falls before the two class actions.
Most of the players want their suits to be decided by a jury, the court was told.
Justice Dixon told lawyers for the two class actions, Melbourne-based Margalit Injury Lawyers and South Australian-based Griffins Lawyers, the court would not run two separate group proceedings on the same issue.
Griffins is representing former Melbourne star Shaun Smith, Adelaide Crows premiership player Darren Jarman and the family of the late Shane Tuck, while Margalit is representing Rooke and more than 100 former players.
The judge gave the two law firms until August to decide who will take over coverage of the class actions.
Outside court, solicitor Michel Margalit, representing Ablett Sr and the Rooke class action, said her clients hope their claims will progress as soon as possible.
“These players have been waiting too long for justice and they wish to have their day in court,” she said.
She said her law firm had been inundated with inquiries from injured players since launching the class action, including AFLW, semi-professional and amateur players.
“We’ve received in excess of 100 inquiries as to whether people have a claim or fall within the class action and these inquiries continue just this week,” Ms Margalit said.
“Many of the players are just so relieved to finally be taken seriously and to be heard.”
The cases will return to court at a later date.
(Australian Associated Press)