On behalf of Attorney Thomas F. Martin of the Law Offices of Thomas F. Martin, PLC. Posted in Workers’ Compensation Law, on Friday, April 9, 2013.
AB 1309 seeks to protect billionaire sports team owners on the backs of injured athletes.
NFL owners are trying to get the California Legislature to enact their special interest legislation to save them from having to pay for legitimate work injuries. NFL owners are scared because more and more players are just now beginning to show the real impact of the damaging blows they received during their football playing careers. Most frightening for these billionaire owners is a recent increase in traumatic brain injuries, cases that can cost the owners millions of dollars in medical costs over the remaining life of the player.
Medical science has proven that these traumatic brain injuries, which include dementia, Alzheimer’s, long-term depression, and even ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), are caused by the cumulative impact of repeated concussive collisions in their professional work. Now, the NFL owners are sponsoring AB 1309 (Perea) to outlaw players from even filing workers’ compensation insurance claims for these injuries, which would shift these medical and disability costs to Medicare, Social Security Disability, and group health plans.
The NFL owners have tried to close every possible door to injured players. First, they denied that football caused the injuries. Now that science has proven them wrong, they are making players sign contracts pledging to use only the team’s home state workers’ compensation system. But some states do not even cover professional athletes, while many other states do not recognize a “cumulative trauma” claim for injuries caused by repeated trauma rather than a single occurrence. And most states’ time limitation on filing a claim has long expired by the time retired players realize how badly their health has deteriorated. Dementia, for example, has a multi-year latency period, making claims impossible in many states.
Although AB 1309 seems to be aimed only at professional athletes, it would set a precedent that undercuts workers’ compensation insurance coverage for pipe welders, traveling salesmen, and many other “everyday occupations.” The restrictions in AB 1309 could limit the ability of truck drivers, flight attendants, farm workers, and others who work in multiple states, to seek medical care and disability compensation for their legitimate work-related injuries.
California has historically allowed the filing of a workers’ compensation insurance claim for all workers injured within the borders of this state, and, if the injury is proven to be work-related, required employers and their insurers to provide them with necessary and appropriate medical care and disability compensation. This would no longer be true as to “professional athletes,” including minor league players.
AB1309 creates, and then singles out, a special class of employees and injured workers – professional athletes – from California’s workers’ compensation insurance system. Although the bill’s sponsors suggest that all professional athletes earn multi-million dollar salaries, in fact, the vast majority of affected workers would be playing for minor league baseball teams in the Pacific Coast League and California League, the NBA Development League and Women’s NBA, semi-pro football teams, Arena League football teams, minor league NHL hockey teams, and even professional soccer teams. Many of these players have earnings that equate to poverty level, yet they sustain frequent injuries from their profession.
The “Jerry Jones’ Dallas Cowboys” Giveaway
AB 1309 would create a crazy quilt of who’s insured for injuries and who’s not. AB 1309 outlaws a claim for cumulative trauma or occupational disease by athletes not employed by a California-based team. Such players would face a “90-days in California” work requirement within the last 365 days. This time limit is conveniently set up so that athletes on teams such as the Dallas Cowboys, who must participate in a summer training camp for several months annually in
Thousand Oaks, California, would still be barred from filing a claim in California.
AB 1309 Discriminates Against Athletes to Benefit Billionaire Owners
California law has always allowed workers injured within the state to file a claim here. But under AB 1309, a Dallas Cowboys player who breaks his leg in training camp can’t file a claim here. If the team bus bringing the Cowboys to a game at Candlestick Park is involved in an accident, and several passengers suffer injuries, none of the players could file a claim in California, but the team trainer or other team employees could file a claim here.
After the game starts, the AB 1309 absurdity continues. If a Cowboys player and a 49er player run into each other and suffer the exact same injury, the 49er player would be permitted to file a workers’ compensation insurance claim in California,while the Cowboys player cannot.
In addition, under AB 1309 if an athlete ‘s last year of injurious exposure is with a team not domiciled in California, the player is barred from filing a claim in California. Professional athletes get traded from team to team, and thus from state to state, all the time. Free agency finds players moving from team to team, state to state, frequently during their careers. A player’s injurious exposure while playing in California may be as great or greater than that experienced with the later non-California franchise, but the injured athlete cannot even file a claim seeking medical care or compensation for their California employment and exposure under AB 1309. Even if this athlete ends his or her career “on the bench” with the out-of-state team and essentially all of the player’s injury is due to games played for the California employer, that athlete is out of luck.
AB 1309 Prevents Insurance Claims for Injuries that Take Years to Develop
AB 1309 would severely restrict the time for an athlete to file a claim. Yet, many injuries and medical conditions have medical latency periods. These injuries do not manifest symptoms of permanent disabilities for many years. For example, injuries to knees and hips that cause the need for a total knee or hip replacement take many years to medically manifest the disability and the need for medical care. Similarly, high velocity bodily impacts like football blocks and tackles cause brain traumas such as dementia, and ultimately death, but not until tens of years after sports employment ends. All along, the team has known that the player will eventually require a total knee or hip replacement, a wheelchair, or even assisted living care, yet the team walks away free of liability under AB 1309, transferring the cost of care to the player or, in most cases, taxpayer supported programs.
AB 1309 Wipes Out 70 Years of California Law that Prevents Employer Fraud
The impetus for AB 1309 is clear – to deny professional athletes employed by out of-state teams the right to file a workers’ compensation insurance claim in California. Not just professional athletes, but any out-of-state workers who comes to California to work and is injured here has always been protected by California law and has the right to file a workers’ compensation claim against their employer’s insurance company in California. Under AB 1309, however, professional athletes are singled out, and regardless of whether the athlete was injured in this state, are not permitted to file a claim here unless he or she meets AB 1309’s “90-days-in-California” requirement.
This bill represents a race to the bottom. These professional athletes are filing their insurance claims in California because it is the only state where they can even file an insurance claim against their team. Many other states do not even recognize cumulative trauma claims. Several states, including Florida, do not require workers’ compensation insurance coverage for professional athletes. California recognizes an injured worker’s right to file a workers’ compensation insurance claim after the worker learns of his work-related disability, even if that knowledge arises years after the worker stopped doing the job that caused the injury, but many other state have no such provision.
AB 1309 is a special interest giveaway hiding behind a CIGA liability.
There are better ways to shield the California Insurance Guaranty Association (CIGA) from claims against non-California professional sports teams, when those non-California teams lack insurance coverage. Proponents cite multimillion-dollar costs to California’s Insurance Guaranty Association, due to many professional sports teams’ insurers having gone bankrupt. Those uncovered teams’ liability is shifted to the safety net paid for by all California employers. But, there are better solutions than to blame the injured athletes and deprive them of basic workplace injury protections. Why should injured minor and major league athletes shoulder responsibility for their teams’ insurance failures? Insulate CIGA from out-of-state sports teams’ liabilities.
No on AB 1309.