Premiership player Liam Picken has launched civil action against the AFL, Western Bulldogs and club doctors after he says he was returned to the field despite suffering on-field concussions.
Lawyers for Picken claim throughout his time with the Bulldogs, the 36-year-old repeatedly returned irregular cognitive test results, but was never made aware of these or sent for specialist management.
Liam Picken marks the ball in front of Shane Kersten.Credit:Darrian Traynor
This was despite both he and his partner allegedly raising concerns with the club about his ongoing symptoms.
Picken’s legal team allege the AFL, Western Bulldogs, and club doctors Gary Zimmerman and Jacob Landsberger were negligent and breached their duty of care for Picken, who now lives with ongoing impacts including photophobia — an aversion to bright light.
Picken — who hails from Hamilton in the state’s southwest — retired from professional football in 2019 after 198 games and a decade with the club. At the time, he said he decided to walk away due to ongoing concussion issues.
Principal lawyer at National Compensation Lawyers, Michael Tanner told The Age their 36-year-old client was still grappling with dramatic and ongoing effects of concussion which continued to impact his cognitive and psychological health.
Second Qualifying Final at the MCG – Geelong v Western Bulldogs – in 2009. Bulldogs tagger Liam Picken. Credit:Paul Rovere
“From Liam’s perspective, he was never made aware of his failings of any cognitive assessment he ever underwent. Further to that, he did not necessarily understand the full extent of his injuries or his symptoms,” Tanner said.
“What he did was voice his concerns about his symptoms. The medical advice given to him at the time was (he was) still fit to play.”
Court documents lodged with the Supreme Court this week state under the current regulations, no AFL club shall allow a player to train or play in any match where they are suspected to be not in a fit state to play.
Picken’s legal team allege during his time with the Bulldogs, he repeatedly recorded irregular and below-average baseline tests during his time at the club. Despite these results, Picken said he was never made aware of them, referred to an expert in concussion management or sent for further testing such as brain scans.
Liam Picken is assisted from the field during the round three AFL match between the Fremantle Dockers and the Western Bulldogs in 2017.Credit:Getty
Throughout this time, he said he also continued to train with the club and compete in AFL competitions.
Court documents filed reference two specific head knocks of particular concern, one during a round three clash at Perth against Fremantle in April 2017, and a preseason match against Hawthorn in Ballarat in March 2018.
During the incident against Fremantle, Picken clashed with an opposition player during a marking contest and as a result, the opposition player pressed his opponent’s head into the ground.
At Ballarat in 2018, Picken was knocked out during a marking contest. In both instances, his legal team allege, he was assessed for and diagnosed with concussion before returning to training almost immediately.
As a result, his lawyers allege those including the AFL were negligent and allowed Picken to be exposed to unnecessary risk or harm.
Liam Picken lies on the field injured during the AFL JLT Community Series match between the Western Bulldogs and the Hawks on March 3, 2018 in Ballarat.Credit:Scott Barbour
As for the Bulldogs, court documents allege the club also failed to ensure Picken’s safety and allowed him to return to full training and competition matches when it was unsafe to do so.
Tanner said they will allege the “greater good of the game” was put ahead of their client’s health.
“Liam is greatly affected by it all and we say with proper medical care, his injuries could’ve been avoided,” Tanner said.
“The AFL’s rules and regulations, they had created, were not followed.
“Liam was also never made aware of him failing any of his cognitive assessments. He [also] did not understand the full extent of his injuries or his symptoms.”
Picken retired from football in 2019 and court documents filed on his behalf allege this was as a consequence of his injury with club doctor Zimmerman later providing him with an end of career medical that specifically cited post concussion syndrome.
His legal team said Picken’s brain injury has left him with ongoing headaches, lethargy, irritability, poor concentration, severe levels of depression, anxiety and stress.
In documents filed, they are claiming a loss of earnings and ongoing medical costs.
Picken isn’t the first former player to launch civil action citing concussion.
Last week, former AFLW Collingwood vice captain Emma Grant launched a civil lawsuit against the Pies after suffering prolonged concussion which resulted in her early retirement. The 33-year-old utility suffered a debilitating head injury during a preseason practice match in 2020.
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