Jeremy Peace, the West Bromwich Albion chairman, last night defended the club's decision to sue the surgeon who, it alleges, was negligent and ended the career of Michael Appleton.

Albion lost their multi-million pound claim against Medhat Mohamed El-Safty after three judges at the Court of Appeal agreed the surgeon owed no duty of care to the football club.

Peace pursued the matter, he said, because of significant losses to Albion after Appleton, a former Manchester United midfield player, injured his knee in a freak accident and underwent three unsuccessful operations. He was forced to retire two years later on November 13, 2003, when the ligaments failed to heal properly.

"This was something we felt compelled to pursue," Peace said. "We knew full well it would have been a ground-breaking decision if the Court of Appeal had ruled in our favour.

"However, given the size of the fee we paid for Michael's services, the losses we suffered on his salary and the cost of finding a replacement, we felt it was a case worth fighting.

"We are very disappointed with the outcome but understand why the Court of Appeal may have been reluctant to set a precedent in this type of case."

Albion signed Appleton from Preston North End for #750,000 on January 18, 2001, on a three-and-a-half year contract. He was seen as a combative midfield player around whom the team could be rebuilt under Gary Megson.

In November 2001, Appleton suffered a knee injury during a training session and Albion referred him to Mr El-Safty, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon specialising in sports injuries.

The surgeon diagnosed an injury to Appleton's right posterior cruciate ligament and recommended reconstructive surgery.

The courts recognised this was negligent advice and that if the injury had been allowed to heal without surgery, Appleton would have been fit again in about four months.

Lord Justice Rix said in his ruling the club did not have a contract with the surgeon nor could they claim against him for financial loss.

"If WBA had wanted Mr El-Safty's advice for the purposes of its own interests, it could have made that plain to him," the judge said. "He would then have been put in a position where he could choose to charge for that advice and the risks involved in giving it, or of disclaiming liability."

The judges dismissed an appeal by the club against a High Court ruling last year that the surgeon had no contractual duty to Albion.

Appleton played 33 league matches for Albion, missed their season in the Premiership in 2002-03, and subsequently turned to coaching.