Printed from

California looks to stem pro athletes' workers compensation claims

Posted On: Apr. 21, 2013 12:00 AM CST

California looks to stem pro athletes' workers compensation claims

California lawmakers are trying to limit workers compensation claims from out-of-state professional athletes who say they were injured while playing temporarily in California — a scenario estimated at more than $1.5 billion in potential claims, experts say.

The legislation comes just as recent arbitration rulings have prevented some former National Football League players from filing workers comp claims in California.

Along with those awards, A.B. 1309 would help curtail a growing number of claims from professional athletes in various sports, said Mark Sektnan, president of the Sacramento, Calif.-based Association of California Insurance Cos.

“Everybody has known that the problem has been out there, but the increasing number of cases has brought it to people's attention,” Mr. Sektnan said.

California's “cumulative trauma” workers comp provision allows employees to file a claim if their work exposed them to injury in the state. That policy can allow athletes to make a California claim if they have played at least one game there.

A one-year statute of limitations to file a comp claim also does not begin until an employee is informed of his or her right to file for benefits, sources say.

Together, those provisions are beneficial for retired athletes who did not receive official notice of their workers comp rights and developed work-related medical problems long after their careers ended, said Modesto Diaz, an attorney who represents various NFL players suing to proceed with their claims in California.


Those injuries include neurological and cognitive problems that football players say they developed because of concussions they suffered on the field in California and nationwide.

“The effects of these repeated blows (are) very serious to these guys,” said Mr. Diaz, who is managing partner with Santa Ana, Calif.-based law firm Leviton, Diaz & Ginocchio Inc. “So you've got to go to a state that recognizes that type of injury.”

A.B. 1309 would bar professional athletes and their dependents from receiving California comp benefits if the athlete was hired by a team outside the state. The bill, set for a hearing Wednesday in the Assembly Insurance Committee, would apply to minor and major league baseball, basketball, football, hockey and soccer players.

California Assembly member and Insurance Committee Chairman Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, introduced the bill last month. In a March statement, he said out-of-state athletes' comp claims are “overburdening the system and increasing costs for courts and claimants.”

An August 2012 report by Seattle-based actuarial and consulting firm Milliman Inc. estimated that California's cumulative trauma cases from professional athletes who played in the past 30 years could reach $1.57 billion — $825 million of which includes estimated losses from retired players who have not yet filed claims.

The report, provided to Business Insurance by ACIC, was prepared for the NFL, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball.

Milliman estimated that 78% of California's sports-related cumulative trauma claims come from out-of-state athletes, or about $1.23 billion in estimated losses.

Mr. Sektnan said some of those sports-related claims are being paid by the California Insurance Guarantee Association, which pays claims for insolvent insurers and is funded by assessments on California employers. Milliman estimates CIGA has had 1,700 workers comp claims from out-of-state players.

“As more of these cases that are not appropriate come into the guarantee association ... the assessment that employers are now paying might have to be increased to cover these claims,” Mr. Sektnan said.


The National Football League Players Association, the union for NFL athletes, has agreed to help prevent athlete claims from being paid by CIGA, said Richard Berthelsen, Washington-based general counsel for the group. He said that CIGA has paid about $4 million a year in claims for professional athletes, compared with $161 million in California income taxes paid by out-of-state professional athletes in 2010.

Mr. Berthelsen also noted that the NFL's collective bargaining agreement requires the cost of workers comp benefits to be taken from the players' share of NFL revenue under the league's salary cap system. Since players bear the cost of comp benefits, he said they should have a right to collect benefits in California or other states where they've been injured.

In addition to the legislative debate over sports comp claims, federal courts have sided with the NFL in several recent cases in which former football players have fought to seek California comp benefits.

Mr. Diaz said the lawsuits have stemmed from a series of arbitration agreements that were handed down in recent months. The players seek to vacate the arbitration awards, he said, because California workers comp often is a last resort for many retired athletes, who sometimes need ongoing care for injuries they suffered during their sports careers.

Many athletes who haven't been able to receive workers comp for their injuries have turned to Medicare for assistance, Mr. Diaz said.

“These players eventually are going to find their way onto Social Security and Medicare ... for that medical care,” he said. “And who pays for Medicare? You, and me and every other person — not just in California, but throughout the country.”

“These players eventually are going to find their way onto Social Security and Medicare ... for that medical care,” he said. “And who pays for Medicare? You, and me and every other person — not just in California, but throughout the country.”