Former Super League star Danny Sculthorpe has been compensated for an injury he suffered when training for the Bradford Bulls, leading to a three-year playing deal being cancelled and effectively ending his top-flight career.
Following legal representation from Hudgell Solicitors, the Bulls’ former holding company, Bradford Bulls Holdings Ltd, has agreed to pay Mr Sculthorpe a five-figure settlement through its insurers.
The injury, suffered when lifting weights, led to Mr Sculthorpe’s contract with the Bulls being terminated without him ever pulling on a shirt and playing for the West Yorkshire club.
Sculthorpe claimed the injury had been caused by the club’s failure to devise a suitable training regime for him, given he had suffered from back problems throughout his career following spinal surgery.
He had just signed two-year deal, with the option of as third in his favour, when the injury happened.
Due to a disc prolapse he suffered early in his career at Wigan, Sculthorpe had been on specifically tailored training programmes at the Warriors, and during spells playing for Castleford, Wakefield and Huddersfield.
However, when signing for the Bulls in September 2009, he did not undergo a formal medical, and despite warning both the club doctor and physio about the need to accommodate his back injury into his training, he was instructed to do ‘bent over rowing’, with 60kg barbells at one of his first sessions.
It was then that Sculthorpe suffered a sharp pain in his back, suffering a prolapsed disc. Following an operation, he was in and out of hospital for two months, and says his only contact from the club was to cancel his contract and offer a ‘compromise’ pay-off.
Now, almost six years after the injury, the settlement has been agreed, and Sculthorpe hopes the case will highlight the need clubs to take full responsibility for the care of their players, on and off the field, and not simply use them as commodities in their quest for glory.
“This case was never about the money for me, it was about the people at Bradford at the time admitting their mistakes, and that they let me down so badly at a time when my career was going very well,” said Sculthorpe, now 35.
“I’d joined them after a very good year on loan at Huddersfield. They had wanted to keep for the following season, but couldn’t due to salary cap restrictions. Bradford looked a good option, and having met with Steve McNamara, who was coach at the time, and chairman Peter Hood, I was excited about the move.
“However, as a club they let me down badly. They failed to devise a training regime for me to ensure my back condition was managed as it had been elsewhere, and then when I was injured, they abandoned me completely.
“People ask me why I lifted the weights knowing my condition, but you don’t go against what you have been told to do by a conditioner. It is their role to make you as fit as possible, and if you start saying I’m not doing this or that, it will go against you. You just assume they know what’s best, and that’s what I did.
“I had passed the information on to the club and obviously had confidence that they knew what they were doing. I also assumed my medical records had been read and a risk assessment made as to my previous injuries. It was whilst doing the last set of reps that I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my lower back.
“I was in hospital for eight weeks and nobody came to see me from Bradford. Then they offered me a severance package on my deal, and even asked that I sign a compromise agreement not to pursue litigation for any perceived negligence. It was basically an offer to be paid off and stay quiet, something I am sure many players have done because they wouldn’t know what to do.
“I’d really like to see clubs take a much more proactive approach to looking after players. Too often players are just seen as a piece of meat. They are of value whilst they are fit and helping the club succeed, but once they pick up an injury or lose a bit of form, they are simply discarded.
“Let’s not forget, clubs often ask these players to play in big games when they are carrying injuries and really struggling physically. Players don’t let their clubs down, but when the boot is on the other foot, it is often tough luck.
“Bradford tried to do that to me. I was no use to them so they just cast me aside. I am glad I fought for this settlement, as hopefully it sends out a message to other clubs that they must look after players, in all areas. The game is tough enough already.”
Simon Wilson, senior solicitor at Hudgell Solicitors, which represented Sculthorpe in his case, said: “Despite having a back condition throughout his career, Danny’s condition had been appropriately managed at all of his previous clubs, and with modified training he was able to remain pain free and play to the highest standards in Super League.
“Indeed, he was signed for Bradford by Steve McNamara, who then soon went on to become the national coach.
“Having failed to carry out any sort of risk assessment to identify suitable exercises and drills for Danny’s training, and then instructing him to lift weights which caused the injury, the club were reckless with regards to protecting him from further injury given his previous medical history.
“We are happy that an agreement has been reached to compensate Danny, and we are glad to see Danny has taken the opportunity to use his own circumstances to call for lessons to be learned.
“Hopefully this case will help ensure all clubs take their responsibilities for player welfare seriously, in line with all that is being done by the RFL to support the people that make the game so popular and entertaining to watch.”
The Bulls are now run by Bradford Bulls Northern Ltd, who were not involved in the claim made by Mr Sculthorpe and Hudgell Solicitors.