The Effects of the Newly Enacted Workers’ Compensation Law Restricting NFL Player’s Rights to file Claims in California

football blogIn October of 2013, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a new bill that restricts the rights of many former professional athletes from pursuing workers’ compensation benefits in California.   It is not often that the topic of workers’ compensation draws the attention of the mainstream media, however given the popularity of the topics of NFL concussions and the rising cost of medical care, this issue has certainly become extremely important to former professional athletes and owners of professional sports franchises alike.

WHY WAS CALIFORNIA WORKERS’ COMPENSATION SO IMPORTANT FOR NFL PLAYERS?

California has long allowed former players to receive compensation for “cumulative trauma” and has a liberal statute of limitations.  Most other states do not recognize cumulative trauma and have very restrictive statutes of limitations.  In the past, many former players who either lived or played for teams outside of California and did not begin to suffer the effects of sports related injuries until after the statute of limitations had elapsed in their home state would turn to California as their fall back option, providing them with necessary compensation for medical care.

A BILL PROMOTED BASED ON MISREPRESENTATIONS

Because these claims come with a cost to team owners, the owners and their lobbyists set out to pass legislation to prevent out of state residents and players who had limited experience playing for California teams from filing workers compensation claims in California.  The team owners and their lobbyists were able to convince the legislators and residents of California that these claims cost the taxpayers of California a substantial amount of money, which is a complete misrepresentation.  Using the NFL as an example, the cost of workers’ compensation claims are borne by the players, team owners and the insurers of the teams.  NFL owners have enjoyed decades of profiting off of the violent image of football (just watch any NFL Films program), yet do not want to pay for the resulting cost of injuries that are caused by the violence of their business.  It would only make sense that owners of professional sports teams, especially NFL owners, should bear the cost of sports-related injuries so that these players do not resort to public assistance (i.e. Medicare, Medicaid) to pay for them.  The irony of the new legislation is that by restricting workers’ compensation for these athletes now does in fact shift the cost of their medical treatment to the taxpayers who fund Medicare and Medicaid benefits, rather than having the medical costs being the responsibility of the NFL owners and their insurance companies.

WILL OTHER STATES RESTRICT ATHLETES FROM RECEIVING WORKERS’ COMPENSATION?

Workers’ compensation is a cost of doing business.  With the cost of medical treatment continuing to rise, one can expect that owners of professional sports teams will continue to lobby the legislatures of other states to restrict their costs with respect to injuries so that they can maximize profits.  The owner of the New Orleans Saints, Tom Benson (net worth $1.3 Billion, #386 on the Forbes 400 list for 2013),on the heels of his team’s Super Bowl victory, tried to ride this wave of momentum by lobbying the Louisiana legislature to pass a bill that would prevent professional athletes from receiving any workers’ compensation benefits in Louisiana.  He was essentially seeking to be the only business owner in the entire state of Louisiana exempt from providing this benefit to his employees (he also owns the New Orleans Pelicans).  Thankfully for all of Mr. Benson’s employees and the taxpayers in Louisiana, this bill was not enacted by the Louisiana legislature.

WHAT SHOULD PLAYERS BE DOING NOW BECAUSE OF THIS NEW CALIFORNIA LAW?

Because of the new restrictive workers’ compensation laws enacted in California, it is extremely important for former players and their agents to be aware of which states allow the player to file claims for these benefits, which states the players will receive maximum compensation in, what the statute of limitations are in those states, and whether there are any restriction on filing claims in jurisdictions other than the state in which the player was employed at the time of the injury (i.e.  clause in player contract attempting to restrict jurisdiction, provisions in applicable CBA that might allow team to offset workers’ compensation benefits for money [salary, injury protection, extended injury protection, proceeds from injury grievance] already paid to player, etc).

MASSACHUSETTS WORKERS’ COMPENSATION FOR PROFESSIONAL ATHLETES

Massachusetts law allows professional athletes to seek workers’ compensation benefits for sports related injuries.  Massachusetts provides for lifetime medical benefits for all reasonable and necessary medical treatment for injuries suffered while playing for a Massachusetts based team.  This is critical for former professional athletes who may require costly medical treatment long after their playing careers are over.  What many people do not realize is that most health insurance plan policies have an exclusion in the policy for coverage for medical treatment caused by work related injuries.   Many former professional athletes have become financially burdened because they do not have health insurance to pay for costly medical treatment and they never pursued workers’ compensation, which should bear the cost of necessary medical treatment.

In addition to medical benefits, Massachusetts workers’ compensation laws allow players to pursue monetary benefits which are based on disability caused by their sports injury.   Massachusetts is a “wage loss” state, meaning that monetary benefits are paid based on a player proving that a sports related injury was a major cause of his or her disability from professional sports, which in turn caused the player to incur wage loss.

WHO CAN FILE IN MASSACHUSETTS?

Of course, in order to pursue these medical and wage loss benefits, a player must establish Massachusetts jurisdiction over their claim.  There are generally three ways that a player’s claim can have jurisdiction in Massachusetts:

1)    Player was employed by a Massachusetts employer on date of injury; 

2)    Player was employed by out of state employer at time of injury, and was injured in Massachusetts, and 

3)    The player’s contract was executed in Massachusetts.

Because of the new restrictive workers’ compensation bill passed in California, it is important that professional athletes contact a workers’ compensation attorney who has extensive experience handling claims on behalf of professional athletes.  Our attorneys are a part of a national network of attorneys who handle such claims.  Once we are contacted by a player or their agent, we gather all necessary information to determine in which states the player should bring his or her claim.  We then contact an attorney in our network in the other states and compare benefits to determine where he player should file his or her claim.  In certain situations it may be most beneficial for a player to simultaneously file separate claims in separate states in order to maximize benefits.

If you would like more information on workers’ compensation benefits available to professional athletes, please contact Brendan Carney or Gerard Carney at the Carney Law Firm, 617-426-9797, Toll Free number (800) 640-2667.