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The Washington Redskins must pay workers compensation benefits for a former punter who suffered a back injury while warming up for a game, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.
Thomas Tupa played in the NFL for 18 seasons, and was a punter for the Redskins in 2004 and 2005. In August 2005, he “landed awkwardly” after a punt during a pregame warm-up for the Redskins and felt a sharp pain in his lower back, court records show.
A doctor found that Mr. Tupa was suffering from “significant progression” of a back condition that had been detected in January 2005. Mr. Tupa had been cleared by his physician to play in NFL games after the earlier diagnosis, but the later injury and further deterioration of his condition ended his NFL career, records show.
Mr. Tupa filed a workers comp claim in 2007 and was awarded temporary partial disability benefits by the Maryland Workers' Compensation Commission. The decision was upheld by a Maryland circuit court and the state Court of Special Appeals.
The Redskins contested Mr. Tupa's claim, arguing that his back condition was not an accidental injury caused by his work.
The team also contended that Maryland was not the appropriate jurisdiction for Mr. Tupa's claim because Redskins players are contractually bound to bring workers comp claims in Virginia. The Redskins practice at the team's headquarters in Ashburn, Va., but play home games at FedExField in Landover, Md.
In a unanimous ruling Wednesday, Maryland's Court of Appeals said that Mr. Tupa's injury was compensable because it occurred “out of and in the course of (his) employment.”
“He was warming up for a game when he landed awkwardly and thereafter sought immediate medical treatment,” the ruling reads. “Ample evidence was presented to show that Tupa suffered a compensable accidental injury during the course of his employment.”
The state's high court also said that Maryland was the appropriate jurisdiction for Mr. Tupa's claim. It noted that contracts cannot be used to waive the rights of covered employees under Maryland workers comp law.