LUCAS MILLER was 22 when he underwent knee surgery in France and lost his dream of becoming a professional rugby league player.
A devastated Miller, now 33, won a negligence claim in the NSW Supreme Court this week against French orthopaedic surgeon David Jones following a botched anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction in his right knee.
Following the operation, the former Newcastle Knights and Melbourne Storm player suffered constant knee inflammation and pain, his professional league career shattered.
Miller sued Dr Jones, claiming he lost the full use of his knee and his rugby league career because the doctor failed to provide proper medical, surgical and specialist treatment.
The court heard that the ACL graft was manifestly inadequate and stitched in the wrong position.
Visible non-absorbable stitches were later found in the graft that caused a major infection of the ACL that required further surgeries.
In his decision, Justice Geoffrey Bellew outlined constant, ongoing problems Miller suffers with his knee.
"He regularly experiences pain in the knee after standing for longer than five minutes and towards the end of each day, along with intermittent clicking and grating," he wrote.
"He has constant swelling in his right knee and is required to use anti-inflammatory medication. The level of constant swelling in his right knee is such that he is required to apply ice on a daily basis to reduce it."
Following stints playing first grade for the Knights and Storm, Miller moved overseas in 2010 and signed with St Gaudens Rugby League Football Club in France.
After consulting with his father Craig Miller, the assistant coach of the Knights at the time of the club's grand final victory of 2001, Miller's aim was to secure a contract playing Super League.
His goal was to then return home to continue his NRL career, with the hope of securing more first-grade starts.
St Gaudens' coach Russell Bussain gave evidence that Miller was "the style of player that becomes the backbone of a team or club".
"Some players have talent and some rely on dedication," he said. "Lucas was fortunate to have both."
On December 6, 2010, Miller was playing in the First Division rugby league competition for St Gaudens when he suffered the right knee injury in a tackle.
"Having received attention from the team's medical staff, it became apparent to the plaintiff that he would require surgery, and that there would be a lengthy period of rehabilitation before he could return to playing," the court judgment reads.
"He said that he wanted to consult a surgeon who not only had a good reputation, but who could also speak English."
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St Gauden's team doctor referred Miller to Dr Jones and the surgery was done in a French hospital in January 2011.
Six months later, after extensive physiotherapy and rehabilitation, Dr Jones cleared Miller to return to "full" rugby league training.
The court heard that Miller flew back to Australia where he planned to commence training under his father, Craig, who was then coaching Newcastle Rugby League club Wests.
During a training drill in September 2011, Miller heard a "click" in his right knee and he fell to the ground in pain.
Knights surgical consultant Neil Halpin explained an MRI scan "showed a problem with the ACL graft".
Believing that Miller needed further surgery if he wanted to continue playing rugby league, Dr Halpin referred him to knee specialists Dr Bruce Caldwell and Dr Tim Musgrove.
Both agreed Miller needed a complete revision of the ACL reconstruction.
An infection then developed in the knee and Dr Caldwell performed an arthroscopy in March 2012 and discovered the graft was in the wrong position and there were "a lot of non-absorbable sutures throughout the notch and in the joint".
He performed two further surgeries over the next few months to repair the damage.
The court heard Miller felt "depressed and down", often ruminating on the fact that he was unable to achieve his childhood dream of being a professional rugby league player.
He now works as a racing manager for prominent Newcastle horse trainer Kris Lees, but still struggles with pain in his knee.
Justice Bellew found that if it was not for the negligence of Dr Jones, Miller would have gone on to have a career playing rugby league.
He adjourned the case to a later date to determine the amount to be awarded to Miller.
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