Western Bulldogs not insured for record $5.9m damages payout

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The Western Bulldogs have no insurance to cover the record $5.9 million damages payout awarded by the courts for historic sex abuse by a club volunteer in the 1980s.

The club immediately declared its intent to appeal the verdict and damages awarded in the case when handed down last Thursday. The club will appeal liability and damages, a source with knowledge of the situation but not authorised to speak publicly confirmed to The Age.

The Supreme Court ruled that Adam Kneale was entitled to a payout of almost $6 million for the sexual abuse he suffered, but the Western Bulldogs are appealing against the liability finding and the damages awarded.Credit: Justin McManus

Three sources with a knowledge of the Bulldogs situation confirmed that the club did not have insurance coverage for the damages awarded by the court.

A jury awarded the victim, Adam Kneale, $3.35 million for pain and suffering, $2.6 million in loss of earnings and $87,500 for future medical expenses. His lawyer said he believed it was the biggest payout in Australian legal history for an abuse survivor.

Other AFL clubs and the league are closely monitoring the Western Bulldogs case and their planned appeal, aware of other potential historic cases connected to football clubs and the likelihood that few, if any, VFL/AFL clubs had insurance at the time to cover historic cases.

The clubs that did have insurance covering those periods as far back as the 1960s might not have had policies that extended to the behaviour of their volunteers.

Two other clubs, St Kilda and Geelong, have known cases of alleged historic sexual abuse.

Two men who were timekeepers at St Kilda and operated as managers and coaches in the club’s Little League program in the 1960s and 1970s have been convicted of abusing junior players in their care, while another of the club’s Little League coaches – former teacher Darrell Ray, now known as Ray Cosgriff – has been charged with alleged historical sex offences, but is yet to be tried or convicted of the charges.

A former Geelong under-19s player has also commenced legal proceedings over claims of sexual abuse allegedly suffered at the club by older players in the 1980s. Geelong has confirmed the legal action against the club.

“The club understands that a historical claim of serious sexual abuse has been made by a person who was engaged with the club’s under-19’s team in the early 1980s,” Geelong said in a statement earlier this year.

The AFL and St Kilda are both signatories to the National Redress Scheme for victims of institutional sexual abuse. The NRS does not preclude a person taking civil action, such as occurred in the Western Bulldogs case. Senior legal sources, who did not wish to be identified due to the sensitive nature of such proceedings, said that the finding against the Bulldogs would encourage more victims to bypass the NRS and take civil action.

In the Western Bulldogs case, Kneale reported his abuser, Graeme Hobbs, to police in 1993, when aged 21. This led to Hobbs and another man being jailed for their crimes and their part in a paedophile ring that passed Kneale around to other men to abuse.

Long considered a financially challenged club with a relatively small supporter base, the Bulldogs have dramatically improved their fiscal position in recent years and have a strong balance sheet. In last year’s annual report, they recorded a total statutory profit of $5,188,421, with an operational profit (before redevelopment activities) of $1,363,857.

This marked seventh consecutive year of total profits exceeding $1 million.

When the case was first launched, Michael Magazanik, a partner with Rightside Legal, told this masthead he thought Kneale would be the first of many to sue an AFL club over childhood abuse.

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