New California bill brings changes to workers’ compensation law

California is home to over 38 million of the nearly 315 million people living in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Not surprisingly, California is home to an array of famous people, including professional athletes.

According to the Los Angeles Times, a recent workers' compensation bill approved by California Governor Jerry Brown will have a radical affect on some athletes hoping to file claims in California. It primarily affects athletes applying for workers' compensation benefits in California who played for non-California-based athletic teams, or who had limited experience playing for teams in California. In the long run, it is considered a long-awaited victory for companies with workers' compensation insurance.

The Los Angeles Times reports that thousands of athletes have filed workers' compensation claims in recent years, in California, who were not working for California-based teams. Previously, California's workers' compensation system allowed compensation for "cumulative trauma." Cumulative trauma refers to a category of injuries, including arthritis, and some brain injuries, that have occurred over time. Many other states have already prohibited recovery for cumulative trauma. For this reason, athletes living in California have previously enjoyed workers' compensation benefits, even though the Golden State hosted just a few of the games played during their careers. Additionally, a long statute of limitations, when compared to many other states, allowed for claims to be brought in California, that were long-since barred in the states where the athlete primarily played.

While the vast majority of California residents, and those receiving or considering application for workers' compensation benefits are not professional athletes, this new bill has a positive affect on the workers' compensation system as a whole. Dennis Kuhl, chairman of the Los Angeles, California Angels of Anaheim baseball team explained that the new law "sets reasonable standards to close an expensive loophole unique to California and to professional sports." Essentially, with the vast amount of very expensive claims coming from professional athletes who are filing in California, and not their home state, workers' compensation insurance payouts are overly costly. Thus, once the costly claims for out-of-state athletes are paid out, only a small "slice of the pie" is left to pay the claims of residents of California, including the more "traditional" California injured worker.

The bill only applies to certain types of athletes, including football, baseball, basketball, ice hockey and soccer players. Due to these specific classifications, as well as provisions allowing for claims by flight attendants and truck drivers, opponents of the bill felt that the bill "unfairly excludes one class of workers" from California's workers' compensation system.

Additionally, the exclusion of claims by out-of-state athletes is effective retroactively, meaning that claims filed after September 15, 2013, will be denied.

This bill is a legislative victory, which has a positive affect on insurers and business owners who have previously been held responsible for injuries of non-California residents. As laws evolve and change, it is important for every business owner to understand the current status of workers' compensation laws in California. If you are a workers' compensation insurer, or employer, and are in need of competent workers' compensation defense, an experienced attorney can help ensure a just result for you and your business.