Club physiotherapist cleared of negligence

Posted: 28th May 2014

EvertonPremier League football club Everton has defeated a promising teenage player’s claim that his hopes of a top-flight career were destroyed by negligence on the part of a senior club physiotherapist in the management of his rehabilitation regime after he suffered a serious knee injury in training.

The attacking midfielder James Hall, who was only 15 when recruited by Everton's academy, sued the club, claiming substantial damages for his pain and suffering and the loss of the untold riches he asserted that he could have earned in the Premiership.

He accused the academy's top physiotherapist, Stephen Hardwick, of working him too hard after he twisted his knee in training, with the result that the injury turned septic and he would never again be fit enough for the professional game.

Following a hard-fought High Court hearing, Mr Justice King expressed his sympathy for Mr Hall’s shattered hopes of footballing stardom but ruled that Mr Hardwick had acted competently and could not be blamed for what happened.

In the two years after suffering the injury in 2005, Mr Hall’s life had been taken over by a succession of operations and gruelling rehabilitation. However, by September 2007, septic arthritis had set into the joint and doctors could do nothing to save his career.

Mr Hall's legal team claimed that Mr Hardwick had started him running too early after an initial knee operation and put him through 'inappropriate activities' that ultimately led to the onset of infection and the failure of a surgical repair. However, the judge found that Mr Hardwick had gone by the book in designing Mr Hall's rehabilitation programme and that there had been no 'red flags' to put him on the alert that the teenager's return to fitness might not be going as planned.

The evidence was 'all one way' that Mr Hardwick had 'taken on board' any concerns that were raised about Mr Hall's progress and the judge rejected claims that he had fallen below the standards to be expected of a competent physiotherapist.

The club's doctor, Dr Jonathan Thomas, had conceded prior to the hearing that he had been negligent in causing a two-day delay before the infection of Mr Hall's knee was properly treated. However, the judge ruled that the medic's mistake had had little impact on the tragic outcome. The knee repair would have failed in any event and Mr Hall's professional footballing dreams would have been over.

The judge’s decision entitled Mr Hall to modest compensation – which had yet to be assessed – from Dr Thomas for any additional pain and suffering caused by the delay in treatment. However, his much larger claim against Mr Hardwick and the club was dismissed.