California Law Limits Workers’ Compensation for Sports-Related Injury

Governor Jerry Brown has signed legislation in California that severely limits workers’ compensation claims by professional athletes, even those with serious brain injuries. The legislation follows more than a year of strong lobbying by professional sports leagues.

League Settlement

In August, the National Football League (NFL), which has been trying to reduce financial risk due to concussions and other serious brain injuries suffered by players, agreed to a $765-million settlement with former players. More than 4,500 players sued the NFL in federal court regarding the lasting effects of concussion. The head injury has been linked to dementia and other illnesses with the potential for disability. Considering the bad publicity and extent of injury potential, many experts believed it was a better deal for the NFL than it was for players.

Restrictions for Players

The new law requires players to have played on a California sports team for two consecutive seasons in order to file workers’ compensation claims in the state. Players who played the sport outside of California for seven or more seasons are unable to file, even if they played for two consecutive seasons in California. The bill was retroactive to September 15, meaning that any claims filed by affected athletes from that date are invalid.

No Lifetime Healthcare

Workers’ compensation lawyers say the bill is unfair to a majority of players, many of whom are diagnosed with traumatic brain injury many years after they retire. Because the NFL does not offer lifetime healthcare, and because the average career of a football player is fewer than four years, many players do not make enough to pay for private insurance. Many of those filing claims in California, one of the few states that recognizes cumulative trauma and allows workers to file long after retirement, played in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

The law also covers minor league players whose salary is sometimes as low as a few hundred dollars per week. Successful claims are paid by the employer or their insurance company, and not borne by taxpayers. Often, the rewards include lifetime medical coverage for the injuries claimed. Some experts claim that the new law could lead to the state barring claims from other types of out-of-state workers, including flight attendants, truckers and salespeople.