GAA and the Law

30th January 2015

Welcome to our first weekly look at GAA and the Law.

Each week we provide a briefing on one specific area of law to try and explain and inform what players, club officials and supporters need to know in GAAland.

Today we focus on the player and player injury. We would not enjoy the game we love but for those young men and women who devote their time to club and county.

Gaelic Games are contact sports and injuries to players will happen. The Association carried out research with University College Dublin in 2013 on player injuries. It showed that on average two thirds of every team will suffer some injury or other during a season. Of those that are injured the study found that injuries to arms and legs are most common. That is to be expected in a physical game. But beyond that the study also found that damaged teeth and hand injuries also feature. Despite widespread comment in the past while it seems that less that 1% of all injuries lead to concussion.

So that’s how the injuries arise. The next thing is what can be done for a player who is injured and will they be looked after. The simple answer is it depends on the injury.

The GAA though clubs do provide a player insurance scheme. It’s like having a comprehensive car insurance for the owner and drivers of a car. It operates well through the club insurance officer but there are limitations.

The injured player must complete an accident report form and have the club insurance office submit it to the claims handler employed by the GAA. The length of time this takes depends on the efficiency of the officer. Payments will not be made straight away and may not be made at all. The claims handlers like in a car insurance claim situation must assess the circumstances of the accident which lead to the injury. There are times when the claim is not admitted and where no money is paid out.

As part of the vetting process the claims handlers ask if the player has their own private health insurance or medical card which may cover the cost before they have to step in. If a player has any of these their claim must go through that source first before being considered for the GAA scheme.

Claims for out of pocket expenses such as physiotherapy/chiropractic /cryo spa /anti-gravity treadmills and so on will only be paid when they service has been provided and a receipt is produced for reimbursement. This will always then mean that players will have to front load the cost of the return to fitness before the insurance cheque arrives.

If the claim is admitted players should be aware that it is the claim handlers that decide in conjunction with the medical reports provided by the players own doctors what the claim is worth. This is a very dispassionate process. A broken shin bone is €X and a dislocated shoulder is €Y. The setting of the figures is beyond any influence the player or their representatives can bring to bear.

There are also the maximum awards that can be made. The main payments are as follows:

  1. Permanent paralysis as a result of an injury sustained on a field of play is capped at €300,000.00. This may seem a lot but when broke down it is not. Taking a player aged 25 years paralysed and expecting to live to 75 that is €6,000.00 per year to live off when complete dependent on those around to assist while wheelchair bound.
  2. Loss of sight €100,000.00
  3. Loss of Partial Sight €100,000.00
  4. Loss of an arm or a leg €100,000.00

This is not an exhaustive list and all figures are the maximum amounts allowable.

When looked at from the viewpoint of a sporting man or woman in their prime and spreading the award out over their lifetime the figures can seem modest.

As mentioned earlier, no payments will be made for medical expenses if there is a private health insurer which of course the player pays for themselves either through their own or a family policy. There is a maximum payment for medical expenses of €4,500.00.

Dental injuries are becoming ever more common. They can and do occur even when mouth guards are worn. The same rules apply about having to go to your own insurer first before you can be considered for the player injury scheme.

The big problem then comes with the loss of earnings side of the scheme. All players are amateur and if working, depend on their day job. If injured while playing and unable to work it is primarily your employers job to pay up. If and when their generosity runs out then the policy will not pay the first weeks wages, up to €200.00 for the second to fourth week and beyond that up to €400.00. Payment will only be made where there is no other source of income. A player can’t make a profit from claims while injured. Students or players without work are not reckonable for this payment.

So that means that you submit your application form through the club insurance official bear in mind the limitations explained and the cheque will issue. Well, not quite.

The onus is on the player to make sure the vouchers are all in order. Letters from private health insurers, doctors, employers, payslips and receipts are all needed. It can be quite time consuming while the player is still recuperating.

It is a very comprehensive system but players should not think that it’s easy to be admitted to the scheme or that payment will be made immediately. In 2011 there were 5992 payments to injured players under the scheme.

Aside from the scheme and private health insurance there are insurance companies that offer personal insurance from injury for sports players. This is a private policy that can be taken out to allow greater cover in the event of injury. It is very common with club rugby players. It is a niche market and policies can be expensive.

So, how does a player best make sure they are covered in the event of an injury?

  1. First, make sure you are a registered member and player of a GAA club so as to avail of the umbrella policy.
  2. Second, see if you have a private health policy – younger players may still be on the family policy.
  3. Third, consider a supplementary personal injury policy.
  4. Fourth, if working check and see what is your employer’s policy on payment while ill or injured and unable to work.

This summary concerns accidental injury. Sometimes injuries on the field of play are not accidental and that will be covered in next week’s briefing.