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Bill closing work comp loophole for pro athletes approved by Assembly committee

The matchup between team owners and former professional athletes over reform of the workers' compensation system here in California now sits at 1-0 after an important committee vote held in Sacramento earlier this week.

Specifically, the Assembly Insurance Committee voted 11-0 to advance Assembly Bill 1309 -- sponsored by Assemblyman Henry Perea (D-Fresno) -- to the floor for debate and a full vote.

For those unfamiliar with AB 1309, it would mandate that only players from California-based franchises could file work comp claims in the state, and shorten the amount of time that players have to file a claim to either within a year of their retirement from the sport or a physician's diagnosis of a condition, whichever is later.

According to Perea, the legislation is necessary because former professional athletes have been filing work comp claims in California for years despite having ever played only a few games here.

"Why should California be the workers' compensation forum for every professional athlete in America?" asked Perea, chair of the committee, at the hearing.

The reason so many former athletes flock to California with their work comp claims is that laws are written such that the statute of limitations for claims may be 15 years or longer from the date of work injury -- a longer time period than most other states. In addition, injured workers are also allowed to file for "cumulative trauma" (i.e., conditions that are caused by years of exposure to repetitive trauma on the job) so long as they can prove that they performed some type of work in California at some point in time.

Supporters of AB 1309, which include the owners of all 16 professional sports franchises in California, claim that the measure would drastically reduce work comp abuse involving former players who file claims in multiple states, and result in significant savings for state taxpayers.

In fact, Andrew Govenar, a lobbyist for the National Football League (NFL), testified at the committee hearing this week, making two very compelling arguments in support of the bill:

  • The dockets of the state's work comp courts have become increasingly clogged with the claims of out-of-state professional athletes since the 2000s.
  • This growing number of claims could conceivably result in insurance companies having to raise premiums across the board.

Opponents of AB 1309, however, argue that the proposed bill is inequitable as it blocks access to those players who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in income taxes for games played here in California, and that it could present something of a slippery slope resulting in sales people, truck drivers and other traveling workers eventually being denied benefits.

It is worth noting that former professional football player Chad Brown, who played 15 seasons with teams outside of California and is currently diagnosed with a 74 percent disability, asked the committee to make California a reliable work comp forum for professional athletes.

However, it appears this request was not well received.

"I don't think California should be the catch-all for deficiencies in other states," said Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto). "That's neither wise nor affordable."

Stay tuned for updates ...

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.

Source:

The Los Angeles Times, "Pro sports leagues win legislative round on workers' comp," Marc Lifsher, April 24, 2013

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