As the publicity of the NFL’s concussion crisis continues to increase, and public pressure continues to mount for the NFL to assume financial responsibility for the costs associated with injuries suffered by former NFL players, the NFL continues to deny former player’s claims for workers’ compensation benefits. The most recent example is former NFL player Robert Alexander, who suffered a cracked vertebrae in his neck, had his claim denied and has now been pending for 3 years in California.
Professional football players, like other employees, are covered by state workers’ compensation laws that provide benefits to players who have been injured while playing football. Although every state’s workers’ compensation law are different, generally those who are injured while playing professional football are entitled to monetary compensation for their injuries and the payment of necessary medical treatment caused by professional football-related injuries. For more information on what benefits are available to former NFL players in Massachusetts’ workers’ compensation system, click here.
It has always been known that football can cause some brutal injuries. Joint injuries (such as torn ligaments in knees and shoulders) and broken bones have always been known to be a risk associated with playing football. However, in recent years medical science and research has discovered the extent of brain injuries suffered by players due to repetitive blows to the head and concussions. This newly discovered evidence of risk of brain injury, combined with the increasing cost of medical treatment has caused the NFL to realize that the cost of conducting their business is exorbitant, and will continue to increase. The owners of NFL teams, being the shrewd businessmen that they are, are always looking for ways to decrease their costs of doing business in order to increase their profits. This blog has already highlighted the NFL’s efforts in California to eliminate the workers’ compensation claims of thousands of former NFL players by lobbying the California legislation to pass a law that will save them hundreds of millions of dollars in workers’ compensation claim costs.
For those former NFL players who are still able to file claims for workers’ compensation benefits after the new California laws went into effect, they can still expect to be forced to fight the NFL in court after filing for workers’ compensation benefits. In California, it may take up to 3 years for an injured former NFL player’s workers’ compensation claim to be resolved. The NFL, NFL owners and their workers’ compensation insurance companies will surely take advantage of this delay in the outcome of claims. By denying claims and forcing former players into litigation, the NFL, its owners and their insurers gain an advantage in negotiating the settlement of a claim. Because many former players have been forced to pay for expensive medical treatment out of pocket and are in extreme financial hardship by the time they file their workers’ compensation claim, they may be more willing to accept less money so they can get the money quicker. This strategy of forcing former players to “settle short” will almost certainly continue as long as the process gets dragged out for such a long period of time.
Former NFL players’ claims for workers’ compensation benefits in Massachusetts can be resolved generally in six months to eighteen months. Almost every claim for benefits filed by a former player will be denied by their former NFL team’s insurance company, forcing them to attend court proceedings in the state in which the claim was filed. As the cost of doing business in the NFL continues to rise because of the increase in NFL injuries and the rising cost of medical care, expect the NFL and its owners to continue their national lobbying efforts to enact legislation that will reduce their legal obligations to pay for these injuries. Ultimately, the question to be answered is who should bear the responsibility of paying for the costs associated with the injuries suffered by NFL players, the NFL owners or their employees?