Why the Reggie Bush Verdict Will Improve Working Conditions for All Pro Athletes

gavel-5-1409595-mFormer NFL football player Reggie Bush recently obtained a $12.5 million-dollar jury award against the Saint Louis Rams in a third-party negligence claim arising out of a 2015 knee injury suffered during a game. Tort law, which includes negligence claims, was designed to not only to fairly compensate those who suffered injuries caused by the negligence of others, but also to deter conduct that is unreasonably risky or dangerous. The size of this verdict should not only compensate Bush, but should also serve as a financial deterrent to other professional sports teams who allow opposing players to work in unreasonably dangerous conditions.  This jury verdict for Bush should help promote safer working conditions for all professional athletes.

While NFL players’ rights to financial compensation for their work-related injuries are typically limited to workers’ compensation benefits, the Reggie Bush case is an example of a rare situation where the player has a viable third-party negligence claim.  Workers’ compensation benefits are the exclusive remedy for injured workers in legal claims against their own employer. Reggie Bush’s MCL injury was sustained while playing for the San Francisco 49ers in a game against the St. Louis Rams in St. Louis, at the Edward Jones Dome.  Because Bush’s injuries arose out of the negligence of entities other than his employer, namely the St. Louis Rams and the other entities that owned and maintained the stadium, he was permitted to bring the third-party negligence claim and pursue tort damages.  Tort damages greatly exceed the amount of compensation available through the various states’ workers’ compensation systems.

Bush was injured when he ran out of bounds and awkwardly twisted his knee on a slab of concrete, tearing the medial collateral ligament in his knee.  He alleged that the Rams knew, or should have known, that having a slab of concrete in close proximity to the field with no traction for a player wearing cleats was a dangerous condition, and the Rams failed to take reasonable precautions to make this dangerous condition safe.  Bush’s attorneys pointed to the fact that Cleveland Browns quarterback Luke McCown was injured in the same area the week prior to Bush’s injury.  This was evidence that supported Bush’s contention that the Rams knew this area was unreasonably dangerous prior to Bush’s injury.  After the McCown and Bush injuries, the Rams placed a safer rubber surface over the concrete (although this evidence may have been ruled to be inadmissible at trial because it was a “subsequent remedial measure”).

Bush’s damage claim focused on his assertion that this injury caused him substantial future wage loss.  He contended that if not for this injury, after the 2015 NFL season he likely would have been signed to a new contract that would have paid him in the neighborhood of $12 million dollars. Instead, coming off of the injury he was viewed as damaged goods and signed a one year, $1 million contract with the Buffalo Bills. Bush’s lawyer asked the jury to award Bush between $10 million and $15 million.  The jury ultimately returned a verdict of $12.5 million. This judgment is likely covered by a liability insurance policy covering the Rams.  Bush has maintained from the outset of his lawsuit that he filed the case to promote player safety in the NFL.  An eight-figure payout will likely grab the attention of the insurance companies who provide coverage to professional sports teams and the entities that own and maintain their stadiums, and compel them to conduct routine inspections to identify and remedy dangerous conditions before players are exposed to them and are injured.  So while this verdict is a big win for Reggie Bush, it could also be a big win for all professional athletes in that it will force teams to provide safer working conditions for the players.