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Are state lawmakers looking to limit the ability of out-of-state athletes to file work comp claims?

Nearly 100 years ago, the state of California established its workers' compensation system in an attempt to provide much-needed support to those who suffered serious work injuries. While the system has, of course, undergone a major transformation since the early 1900s -- evolving into a $12 billion industry -- it's underlying principle has remained the same: any person employed in California for any period of time may seek benefits to cover their medical expenses and work-related disabilities.

Over the last three decades, however, a rather interesting trend has emerged concerning California's work comp system. Specifically, it has become the venue of choice for former professional athletes looking to file work comp claims.

Here, ex-National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), National Hockey League (NHL) and National Basketball Association (NBA) players -- many of whom only practiced or played a few games in California -- claim to have suffered serious work-related injuries caused by years of bruising contact in their respective sports.

To date, these efforts have proven successful as roughly $747 million has been paid out to roughly 4,500 former professional athletes since the 1980s. Some of the more notable names on this list include former Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis who secured $199,000, former Philadelphia 76ers star Moses Malone who secured $155,000, and former Dallas Cowboys star Michael Irving who secured $249,000.

How and why are these former players able to secure work comp benefits here?

California work comp laws are written such that 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. In addition, California workers are also allowed to file for "cumulative trauma," meaning conditions that are caused by years of exposure to repetitive trauma on the job.

Not surprisingly, this current state of affairs has caused a clamor in Sacramento, where political experts are predicting that lawmakers may soon unveil legislation designed to end the practice of professional athletes from out-of-state organizations seeking cumulative-trauma benefits here.

Supporters of such a measure -- including team owners -- argue that even though workers' comp is purely employer-funded (meaning California taxpayers don't pay any money), the practice by professional athletes still serves to clog an already crowded state court system and could even result in higher premiums for employers as insurers struggle to cover the costs.

Stay tuned for updates on this intriguing story ...

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


The Seattle Times, "Pro athletes nationwide cashing in on California's workers' comp," Marc Lifsher, Feb. 24, 2013

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