Medical negligence in sport - compensation for a lost career

Famous American Football coach Vince Lombardi once said: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” The pressure to win in professional sports often leads to inspiring sporting moments that can bring joy to spectators and bring entire nations together. However, the pursuit to win at all costs can also leave athletes at risk of serious injury.

When a serious injury occurs, athletes may require medical treatment to be able to return to play. Unfortunately, when an individual receives negligent medical treatment, this can cut short their playing career, leading to significant financial loss in some cases.

Michael Appleton v Medhat Mohammed El-Safty

The Claimant in this case, Michael Appleton, was a professional footballer playing for West Bromwich Albion. At the age of 25, Mr Appleton suffered a partial tear of the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. The club physiotherapist sent Mr Appleton to a specialist, Mr El-Safty.

Mr El-Safty, named as the Defendant in this case, advised Mr Appleton that he would require reconstructive surgery which he carried out himself. However, the surgery was unsuccessful and this meant that a second surgery was later required. The problems with the treatment of Mr Appleton’s injury continued and he eventually required a tibial osteotomy. Following the multiple surgeries and treatment provided by the specialist, Mr Appleton was advised to retire from professional football.

Expert evidence in this case found that if Mr Appleton had been treated conservatively (i.e. without surgery) he would have been able to return to play professional football within 3-6 months of the original injury. The advice from the Defendant to undergo surgery was deemed negligent and brought a premature end to Mr Appleton’s playing career.

The Defendant admitted liability. The matter for the court then became the quantification of Mr Appleton’s special damages, the most notable of which was the figure pleaded for future loss of earnings. The total special damages figure pleaded amounted to more than £ 7 million. The critical questions were:

  1. For how long would the Claimant have been able to continue playing professional football; and
  2. At what level and for which club would he have played;
  3. After his playing career was over would he, but for the Defendant’s negligence, have secured a career as a manager, or as a playing manager and maintained a career through the rest of his working life.

The correct figure to compensate Mr Appleton for his overall loss was argued by both sides until the court ordered the Defendant (via their insurer) to pay Mr Appleton in the region of £1.5 million in damages.

Compensation for professional athletes

Negligent medical care can harm pro athletes more than others, as shown in the Appleton case. With playing careers generally being short, there is no doubt that athletes must seek to maximise their earnings during their playing career.  When that career is cut short due to negligent treatment of an injury, or the negligence leads to a lengthy spell on the sidelines that could have been avoided, athletes are entitled to claim for substantial loss of earnings.

Our Team

Geldards’ medical negligence team is skilled in all areas of medical negligence and has secured multi-million-pound settlements for many victims of medical negligence cases or clinical errors.

Our results, across many high-profile and cutting-edge cases, demonstrate our robust experience and a strong reputation for acting for individuals in these difficult circumstances.

If you have concerns about the medical treatment you have received during a professional career or otherwise, please call us for a free consultation at 02920 391703 or contact Jon James by email at

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