California Limits Workers’ Compensation Sports Injury Claims
Written by James P. Nevin
It’s a sad day for athletes suffering from sports brain injuries. The California legislature recently passed, and Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a law that will prevent many out-of-state professional athletes from filing worker’s compensation claims in California, including those with serious brain injuries.
The new law targets athletes who did not play on a California team for at least two complete seasons. It also applies to players who spent seven or more seasons playing outside the state, even if they met the two seasons in California requirement. The bill will apply retroactively to September 15, making any claim already filed by an affected athlete invalid from that day forward.
The bill was the subject of nearly 18 months of lobbying by the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and other major sports leagues and workers’ compensation insurers. It is a considerable victory for the NFL, who recently agreed to a $765-million settlement with more than 4,500 former players who sued in federal court over the lasting effects of concussions. The new legislation allows the NFL to potentially dodge thousands of serious head and brain trauma claims by out-of-state players. As of 2006, more than 3,400 former NFL players have filed workers’ compensation claims, many alleging head or brain injuries that have caused incurable neurological conditions.
California’s workers’ compensation system is one of the few to recognize cumulative trauma, injuries that occur over time, and it includes provisions allowing some workers to file long after retirement. This is in contrast to most states that have stricter time limits for filing claims. These factors have made California a haven for players who have developed serious brain injuries years to even decades after their careers have ended. According to state data, as many as two-thirds of all cumulative trauma filings have been by out-of-state athletes since 2006.
The bill was opposed by organized labor due to concerns that it could encourage employers and insurers to propose future legislation that would bar claims for other out-of-state workers, such as flight attendants, truckers, and salespeople whose jobs bring them to California.
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