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New law gives employer defense to out-of-state athletes

For many years thousands of athletes from around the country have been allowed to file workers' compensation claims in California and collect for what is called cumulative trauma. That is a category of injury that occurs over time and may include arthritis or the accumulated brain injuries that built up over a career of successive head concussions. Due to loopholes in the relatively lenient California workers' compensation law, there was no effective employer defense to the procedural correctness of these filings.

However, the legislature has finally closed some of the loopholes and Gov. Brown has signed into law a bill that will prevent many professional athletes from filing workers' compensation claims in California. Those who have played on California teams generally will not be affected. But AB 1309 will prevent filings by those who played for teams outside of California or had limited time on California teams. They can no longer make cumulative trauma claims.

In the past players were being qualified to file and collect huge benefits packages even if they had played only a handful of games in California. The major sports leagues backed the bill, arguing that the filings were excessively costly and the athletes should have been using their own state to file. The players' unions and organized labor opposed the new law, pointing out that flight attendants and truck drivers who spend little time in California will still be allowed to file cumulative trauma claims.

Opponents also argued that they were filing in California because of being prevented by stricter laws in their home states, such as a shorter statute of limitations or the failure to recognize cumulative trauma. That argument, however, begs the question of why California should serve as the forum for and be unduly burdened by such claims. The new law will provide a jurisdictional employer defense to such claims with respect to the sports of football, baseball, basketball, ice hockey and soccer. The bill passed overwhelmingly in both houses of the California legislature, with only five "no" votes in its final version.

Source: Los Angeles Times, Gov. Jerry Brown signs athlete workers' comp bill, Ken Bensinger, Oct. 8, 2013

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