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As reported here on March 1, 2013, in our blog entitled, “Workers’ Compensation Pays Cash Benefits to Out of State Athletes,” California provides workers’ compensation benefits for injured pro athletes. California is unique in that it does this not only for our own athletes, that is players and former players of our own California NFL teams, like the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers, but it also does it for players and former players for any out-of-state team who played any games in California.

The reason California pays these work comp benefits is because we are unique in at least two respects:

First, under California law, an injured employee based in another state may claim benefits under California’s workers’ compensation system if the injured worker can show any injury occurred here. And, with all the pro teams located in this state, it is rare for a pro athlete not to play any games in California.

Second, California is one of just nine (9) states that allow workers’ compensation claims for “cumulative trauma injuries”. These are the types of injuries that build up over time. The most common non-sports cumulative trauma injury is carpal tunnel injury which many workers routinely suffer from many years of typing. In the NFL, the most common cumulative trauma injuries have been to knees (like Adrian Peterson’s torn ACL, but returning to win MVP), necks [like Payton Manning returning from four (4) reported neck surgeries to win Comeback Player of the Year] and backs.

What are of great concern to the NFL now are neurological injuries, including concussions, brain injuries, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. That is because the NFL has an idea of what risk it is exposed to with knee and even neck & back injuries, but the recently publicized head injuries are a huge unknown.

In fact, recently over 4,000 neurological injury claims have been consolidated in a Philadelphia federal court addressing long-term neurological damages to NFL players. These claims have been brought by both the players and their families.

In fear of these and further multiple workers’ compensation claims, pro teams are lobbying the California legislature to pass a bill to prevent out-of-state pro players from making workers’ compensation injury claims in California for their cumulative trauma injuries. While at first glance California tax payers might readily agree with passage of such a bill, it is important for us to remember that it is only the employer (if self insured) or their insurer who pays these benefits. Further, the insurer charges each employer different rates or premiums based upon the risks of that industry. So, since the risk from playing football is much greater than working in say a grocery store, NFL teams would be charged more for their workers’ compensation coverage. You and other tax payers and other employers will NOT be charged for this. Further, the current system will actually save tax payers and other employers money since if former NFL players do not receive this benefit paid by their employers then these severely injured players will look to tax payer supported Social Security and Medicare. In other words, we shall bear this financial burden if the billionaire NFL owners are able to shift this burden from them to us.

Lest anyone think these permanently injured players are getting rich off their employer paid workers’ compensation benefits, Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times reported that the current compensation in California for a partially but permanently injured player is limited to $270 per week for up to a maximum of 320 weeks.

Mr. Hiltzik suggests that the pro teams could better protect themselves from these risks while at the same time better protecting their players by entering into agreement with the players’ union to provide long-term health care for these injured players.

Meanwhile, the question our California legislature faces is whether it should bar out-of-state professional athletes from receiving benefits under California workers’ compensation law notwithstanding the fact some athletes who played here suffered cumulative injuries? Or should, as some believe, their own state of employment bear sole responsibility? While at first glance it would seem best to have all such claims resolved in one forum, that is the state where the player’s team is based, unfortunately, one problem with this solution is each state may have different and inconsistent rules on cumulative injury claims.

It will be interesting to see how the California legislature deals with the lobbying efforts by professional sports teams and their leagues to enact this limiting legislation.

Our California Injury Attorneys provide free consultations for California workers’ compensation and personal injury claims throughout Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley and all of California.

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