Should Professional Athletes Seek Workers Compensation?

In the past three decades, more than $747 million has been awarded by the state of California’s workers’ compensation system in benefits for work-related injuries to thousand of professional athletes. As a bill to stop this practice is being proposed, the debate on whether or not benefits should be awarded to players of out-of-state teams start to heat up.

About 4,500 professional basketball, football, baseball, hockey and soccer players have cashed in benefits from the Golden State, based on a study that came out August of last year. Some even reaching six-digit figures on settlements for multiple injuries to the head, arms, trunk, legs and general body or cumulative trauma caused by work related stress.

The peculiar side of giving these huge benefits is that some of these athletes played as little as one game in the state they are cashing in the benefits from.

Thus,the big question stands: should long retired out-of-state teams and athletes cash in on workers compensation?

Last February 25,a bill was passed in California to ban retired athletes from filing for workers’ compensation benefits from California after they have played only a few games within the state. With the current set up, employers end up paying higher premiums and surcharges to athletes after insurance companies failed to pay for these outstanding claims, authors of the bill say.

Backing the bill are sports leagues and their insurers who believe some athletes are abusing this compensation system, especially with California- the only state that has relatively lenient regulations on these claims.

“The system is completely out of whack right now,” Jeff Gewirtz, VP of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, told the LA Times.

On the other side of the heated debate are players, athlete unions and labor lawyers who believe banning or restricting professional athletes’ benefits is unfair.

For one, workers compensation is fully funded by the employers and does not come from taxpayers’ money. Consulting lawyer for the National Football League Players Association, Richard Berthelsen argues that the workers compensation of the teams are calculated into the players salary caps pro-rata. In effect, he says, the athletes are paying for their own insurance coverage. “They pay for their own benefits,” he argued.

Other athletes and their unions contend that the nature of their work require guaranteed protection from debilitating injuries. Some professional athletes, especially football players, have relatively short careers but end up with incapacitating not to mention costly injuries that aren’t adequately covered by disability benefits of their respective leagues.

Angie Wei, Legislative Director of the California Labor Federation, tackles the issue of out- of-state teams cashing in benefits for cumulative effect of injuries over years of playing. She says whether athletes play for out-of-state teams, they should still be eligible to receive fair compensation. Her reason is that athletes work for a short period of time but at very intense levels thus being more prone to injury. She argues that the players are just like any other workers who deserve access to their respective benefits.

The solution probably lies not in banning retired athletes from filing for workers’ compensation benefits, but in drafting a provision in existing state laws that raises the minimum requirements for athletes to benefit from the compensation system. This is a provision that will protect the state employers from being abused by players who cash in benefits after playing relatively few in-state games;a provision that will at the same time provide the right and just compensation for professional athletes after their career limelight has died. At the very least, there’s a win-win situation.

Workers Compensation can be difficult, confusing, and very complex. Kaplan Morrell has helped thousands of injured workers since 1997 get the benefits they deserve. Our firm is also only one of two law firms designated by the National Football League Players Association in Colorado to help pro-players with their work injuries. Contact us here or call us at (866) 356-9898 for your FREE CONSULTATION.

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