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NFL player’s cumulative injury comp claim in California denied

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A former Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle and California resident cannot file a cumulative-injury workers compensation claim in the state because there’s no proof he signed his National Football League contract while in California and he only played two games in the state during his six-year career, the California Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

Larry Tripplett, who played for the Indianapolis Colts first but then for both the Buffalo Bills and the Seattle Seahawks, in 2009 filed a claim for workers compensation benefits, alleging injury to multiple body parts throughout the course of his National Football League career. Each of the defendant football teams and insurers denied his claim, according to the ruling in Larry C. Tripplett v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, Indianapolis Colts et. al., filed in California’s 4th District Court of Appeal, 3rd Division, in Santa Ana, California.

At issue is jurisdiction, according to the court record. Mr. Tripplett claimed that because he was a California resident when he signed the contract that he is entitled under California law to file a comp claim in the state.

“Although the workers compensation judge found jurisdiction was established by the fact (Mr.) Tripplett’s agent had ‘negotiated’ his contract with Indianapolis while located in California, the (Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board) reversed (this claim). It suggested instead that the salient question in assessing whether Mr. Tripplett was ‘hired’ in California was whether he or his agent executed the written employment agreement in this state.”

The court found little proof that the football player signed his contract in California — Mr. Tripplett testified he assumed he signed from his agent’s office in Newport Beach, California, but was not sure, according to the ruling. In turn, a witness for the Indianapolis Colts testified that “Tripplett likely signed the contract in Indianapolis while attending the team’s minicamp on July 24 through July 26, 2002,” and had his agent “transmitted his signature via facsimile from New York,” according to the record.

The court ruling also cited case law analysis that “suggests (Mr.) Tripplett’s cumulative injury likewise occurred at his retirement, rather than during any particular game — including either of the two games he played in California. Thus, his cumulative injury had not ‘ripened into disability’ when he played two games in California.” He played 110 games in his career and was declared 67% permanently disabled after he retired, records state.

The appeals court upheld the earlier decision that Mr. Tripplett is not entitled to workers compensation benefits under California law: “Tripplett’s residency in California provides no basis for establishing subject matter jurisdiction over his injury, and we find no error in the WCAB’s conclusion that his participation in two games in California, out of more than 100 in his career, reflected no significant connection between this state and his cumulative injury,” the ruling states.

The firm representing Mr. Tripplett plans to appeal the decision over where the football player was hired, said Chris Ginocchio, a partner with Santa Ana, California-based Leviton, Diaz & Ginocchio Inc.

“Case law has never required (the contract signing) to have taken place in California. We are looking at where he was hired,” he said, arguing that Mr. Tripplett was hired to play for the Colts while still in California.

Other attorneys involved in the case could not be reached for comment.