Death of young rugby player highlights lack of cardiac screening for athletes

21 January 2020

Shoosmiths clinical negligence team are representing the family of 27-year-old professional rugby union player Ian Michael Williams at the Inquest into his death, which will take place between 27 and 30 January 2020 at the Doncaster Coroner’s Court. Ian died on 20 February 2018 during a training session at English Championship Rugby Club, Doncaster Knights.

Ian Michael WilliamsIan was diagnosed with a systolic heart murmur in November 2004 during a routine medical check. Cardiac investigations confirmed that he had a bicuspid aortic valve. At that time, long-term monitoring was recommended. However, for a variety of reasons this did not occur and Ian was lost to follow-up for his cardiac condition. From 2009, aged 19, Ian started to play semi-professional rugby. Despite declaring his cardiac condition to his new GP, no cardiac follow-up was arranged. The same happened in 2013, when he registered with a different GP Practice, despite also making them aware of his condition.

In early 2016 Ian became a full-time professional rugby player in the Welsh Championship League in Colwyn Bay, North Wales. In June 2016 he registered with a new GP Practice when he joined the Rotherham Titans in the English Championship. His local GP was also the club doctor. In April 2017, Ian moved to join Doncaster Knights. He declared his cardiac condition prior to joining both clubs as well as with the new GP Practice, but despite this no cardiac follow-up was arranged.

On 15 February 2018, during physical activity, Ian complained of neck pain, chest pain, blurred vision, a headache and left-sided jaw pain. He was taken by ambulance to the Accident and Emergency Department at Doncaster Royal Infirmary where he was seen by a junior doctor. Ian made him aware of his cardiac condition, which combined with his symptoms should have resulted in a referral to a cardiologist and further action including surgery. It is alleged that this would have avoided Ian’s tragic death. However, Ian was discharged home and on 20 February 2018, during a training session at Doncaster Knights Rugby Club, he suffered a cardiac arrest caused by a haemopericardium arising from a dissection of the ascending aorta, and tragically died.

Shagufta Aziz from Shoosmiths commented:

“The family maintain that if the GPs and/ or rugby clubs, who were aware of Ian’s cardiac condition, had referred him for cardiology follow-up, or this had occurred following his attendance at hospital in February 2018, his death could have been avoided. At that time, cardiac screening was only mandatory at the English international and men’s premiership levels. As a result of The Ian Williams Foundation working with The Rugby Football Union, it has now been recommended that the cardiac screening requirement be extended to the English championship level for the current 2019-2020 season.”

The family hope that the Inquest will not only answer their questions in relation to Ian’s death but also ensure that steps are taken to raise awareness of aortic dissection (a serious condition in which there is a tear in the wall of the major artery carrying blood out of the heart) and extend cardiac screening and follow-up to athletes at all levels.

Ian Williams Doncaster Knights, young rugby sports player who died due to medical negligence

Pictured above: Ian Williams Doncaster Knights, the deceased.


Media coverage

Rotherham Advertiser:


Birmingham mail:

The Sun: 

Hallam FM:

BBC News online: 

The Examiner:



This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024

Contact our experts

Sorry, there are a few problems with the information you have entered. Please correct these before continuing.


One moment please...

Thank You

Your submission has been received. We'll be in touch soon.

Who we work with

  • Brain Injury Group
  • Child Brain Injury Trust
  • Headway
  • SIA
  • Back Up
  • Macmillan
  • Danielles Flutterbyes
  • Forces
  • Bens Heroes Trust

Our accreditations

  • Accredited Personal Injury
  • Apil
  • Ama
  • Clinical Negligence
  • Legal 500
  • UK Chambers
  • The Society Of Clinical Injury Lawyers