Sports-related brain injuries are among the biggest new area for insurance claims, S&P Global Ratings warned on Thursday, shortly after the World Wresting Entertainment (WWE) was sued by more than 50 former wrestlers.
A landmark class-action settlement last year between the U.S. National Football League (NFL) and thousands of former players has pathed a way for claims in both the U.S. and the U.K., S&P said.
Since then, dozens of retired wrestlers have sued the WWE for neurological injuries allegedly sustained while participating in the professional fighting company's tournaments.
S&P said injured amateur and professional rugby players might also look to sue, along with participants in other sports where helmets are worn to prevent head injuries. Among entities that could be targeted for claims are athletics groups, sports teams, schools, retailers and helmet makers.
The ratings agency said there were similarities between brain-injuries claims and the claims dating back decades made for exposure to asbestos. Insurance companies still pay out around £200 million ($263 million) a year in the U.K. to people who were exposed to asbestos — a material once commonly used in manufacturing and construction — and subsequently developed cancer.
"We don't believe that sports-related brain-injury claims will match the scale of asbestos-related claims for mesothelioma and asbestosis in either the U.S. or the U.K. However, there are noteworthy similarities between the two types of claim," S&P analysts based in London and New York said in a report.
These similarities include the large numbers of people potentially affected and the fact that brain damage is a latent injury that may worsen over time.
"U.S. insurers have learned from their experience of asbestos-related claims and are increasingly drafting exclusion clauses for concussion claims and capping concussion lawsuit payouts," S&P added.