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NFL pros blitz California work comp courts with cumulative trauma claims: Pt. 1

Owners in the National Football League (NFL) are on the defensive as thousands of current and former professional football players who played in the NFL have filed worker's compensation claims in California's work comp system. Claims from decades of bruising hits in the NFL could escalate into hundreds of millions of dollars. NFL owners are now defending against work comp claims in the state from which they operate and California, too, in some cases.

While it is not clear if the NFL pros will prevail on their work comp claims, NFL fans may want to take note, too. While NFL owners usually buy work comp insurance for their teams, some NFL teams are self-insured. And regardless of whether an NFL team is a self-insured employer or it buys worker's compensation insurance coverage, the costs of sky-high premiums or work comp payouts could be passed on to NFL fans in the form of higher ticket prices.

Many people may question why NFL players who played with franchises located in cities around the country are filing work comp claims in California's work comp courts. The answer is that it appears that California worker's compensation laws may allow them to do so.

California work comp laws were written to help California's large number of migrant workers to obtain work comp benefits if they were injured on the job. The statute of limitations for a work comp claim may be 15 years or longer from the date of work injury - a longer time period than most other states. And California workers are also allowed to file for "cumulative trauma," that is, conditions that are caused by years of exposure to repetitive trauma on the job.

But NFL owners may have some legal defense to the flood of California work comp claims. First, most NFL teams require that their players sign an agreement to file work comp claims in the state in which the team plays. If a judge enforces those contracts, then the NFL players will not be able to access California work comp courts. Attorneys representing the NFL on these work comp claims also argue that California laws were not written to help NFL players who may have only played in a California stadium a few times over a long career.

In our next post, we will talk about why NFL owners from franchises outside of California and other out-of-state employers should be aware of California's work comp laws.

Source: Cinncinnati.com, "NFL Workers' Comp fight could cost hundreds of millions," Kimball Perry, Feb. 3, 2012

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