Tottenham Hotspur held liable after player suffers brain damage following cardiac arrest
An English Premier League football club has been held “vicariously liable” after one of its youth team players suffered a cardiac arrest in his first match and was left brain damaged.
Radwan Hamed, who was 17 when he collapsed during a youth team game in Belgium in August 2006, raised an action for £7 million damages claiming that the cardiac arrest and consequent catastrophic brain injury resulted from the “negligence” of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club – through Dr Charlotte Cowie and Dr Mark Curtin, specialist sports physicians employed by the club – and of Dr Peter Mills, the Football Association’s regional cardiologist for South East England.
A judge in the High Court in London ruled that both the club and the cardiologist breached the duty of care they owed to the claimant, with damages to be decided at a later date.
Mr Justice Hickinbottom heard that Mr Hamed, then aged 17, signed on professional terms with Tottenham on 1 August 2006.
He was described as an “extremely gifted and dedicated footballer” who had been associated with the club since the age of 11 and it was hoped – and by many expected – that he would become a successful professional footballer.
The court was told that under an FA protocol, new entrants to any football academy had to be the subject of cardiac screening.
In a screening before he signed to the club in July 2005, an ECG showed his heart to be “unequivocally abnormal” and the expert cardiologists agreed that it was “indicative of the claimant suffering from an underlying heart muscle disease”.
The player’s father was told by Dr Cowie that his son had an enlarged heart, but this was “common in athletes” and “nothing to worry about”.
Mr Hamed, who is now 26, also had an MRI scan and it showed no obvious features of “hypertrophic cardiomyopathy” (HCM), the most common disorder in young athletes and the condition which ultimately led to his collapse, but Dr Mills wrote to club saying that there was still a risk of a cardiac event and, as a result, a “very low” risk that the claimant might die – a letter endorsed by Dr Curtin.
However, balancing the very small risk of an adverse event and the potential benefits for this young man of continuing his footballing career, in his judgment as a cardiologist Dr Mills considered that it would be reasonable for the claimant to continue training and playing, but a review would be required.
Eleven months later, with no further tests having taken place and Mr Hamed not knowing his ECG had been “abnormal”, he signed a contract with Spurs.
Three days after signing, the teenager collapsed six minutes into his first game for the club’s youth team against Cercle Brugge Football Club and bystanders were unable to resuscitate him.
After about a quarter of an hour an ambulance arrived with a defibrillator, and he was taken to hospital where he was diagnosed as having suffered brain damage as a result of anoxia and has since been left unable to live independently.
Mr Hamed’s father, Raymon, claimed the injuries resulted from the negligence of the football club and of a FA cardiologist who screened his son.
Causation was conceded by the defendants, but Mr Justice Hickinbottom found that both Dr Mills and the club were in breach of their respective duties to the claimant, and held that the club was 70 per cent liable and Dr Peter Mills was 30 per cent liable.
The judge observed Dr Cowie, who was head of the medical services department at the club, made a “serious error of judgment” when she concluded that the teenager bore “no risk” of an adverse cardiac event.
Handing down his judgment, Mr Justice Hickinbottom said: “The club owed a duty of care to the claimant as a result of both the doctor/patient and employer/employee relationship.
“The club doctors were not only in effect the claimant’s general practitioners, but specialist sports physicians who were (or should have been) well-acquainted with the cardiac risk faced by young athletes.
“It was their responsibility, as specialist physicians and employers, to ensure that relevant risks were identified and communicated to the claimant and his parents to enable them to make an informed decision as to whether to bear them. In this, they singularly failed.”