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Former NFL player’s back surgery doesn’t qualify as medical-only claim

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Cleveland Browns

A former National Football League player’s workers compensation claim related to his back surgery was timely because it fell within a ten-year statute of limitations for lost-time claims, even though the Cleveland Browns argued that it was a medical-only claim with a six-year statute of limitations, an Ohio appeals court ruled.

Ryan Pontbriand was a long snapper for the Cleveland Browns Football Co. L.L.C. in 2005 when he injured his back during a game. Mr. Pontbriand underwent surgery to correct the injury and missed five games, during which time he received his regular salary according to the terms of his contract. The Browns paid Mr. Pontbriand’s medical bills through May 11, 2006, when a complete resolution of symptoms was declared, according to the ruling issued by the Ohio Court of Appeals on Thursday.

In 2007, Mr. Pontbriand filed a first report of injury with the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, which the team, acting as a self-insured employer, certified. In May 2013, Mr. Pontbriand applied for a determination of percentage of PPD, to which the team objected, saying the six-year statute of limitations on medical claims had passed, court records show. The commission, concurred and dismissed Mr. Pontbriand’s application.

Mr. Pontbriand appealed the order and a district hearing officer found that Mr. Pontbriand’s claim was not subject to the six-year statute of limitations for medical claims but rather to a ten-year statute of limitations for a lost time claim. An appeal filed by the team was denied in September 2013 by a staff hearing officer, who also determined the club was entitled to reimbursement for payment out of any comp award. An administrative appeal of that order was denied by a different staff hearing officer.

The team asked for the order to be reconsidered. In January 2014, the commission voted 2-1 to vacate the second order and held a hearing at the team’s request. In a 2-1 decision released in August 2014, the commission decided the first order incorrectly stated that the salary Mr. Pontbriand continued to receive after his injury was advance payment of compensation, but that because Mr. Pontbriand received wages in lieu of temporary total disability compensation, the ten-year statue of limitations applied.

In December 2014, the team filed a complaint for a writ of mandamus saying the order was contrary to law and that the commission’s factual finding was an abuse of discretion. The team outlined four objections to the order, including that there was no evidence Mr. Pontbriand lost wages, there was no lost time claim and no application for TTD benefits, there was no medical proof of Mr. Pontbriand’s TTD, and there was no evidence that Mr. Pontbriand was not capable of and did not perform work under his contract. A magistrate recommended that the court deny the club’s request for a writ of mandamus, saying the commission did not abuse its discretion.

The three-judge panel of the appeals court overruled the team’s objections on all four counts and dismissed the petition for writ of mandamus.

“The commission had to determine whether Pontbriand’s claim was a medical only claim subject to a six-year limitation period that had expired, or a lost time claim subject to a ten-year limitation period that had not expired,” the panel said. “We find the magistrate’s finding of facts and conclusions of law to be appropriate, and we adopt them as our own. We hereby overrule the club’s objections to the magistrate’s decision and deny the club’s petition for a writ of mandamus.”