NFL’s workers’ comp issue just keeps growing; Florida tries a new tack with proposed bill

An ongoing issue in the NFL concerns injured players who file for workers’ comp benefits in states where they played games rather than in the state where the team is based. We first covered the issue last year here and here, describing what was originally known as “the Bengals’ situation,” which expanded to the point that hundreds of retired, injured players were filing in California because of its unique circumstance.

The California system vs. newer contracts

We quoted from an April piece from The New York Times: “California provides the only workers’ compensation system that allows retired pro athletes to file claims for long-term injuries sustained on playing fields years or even decades before. Quietly, hundreds of football players have received awards or settlements worth at least $100,000 and 700 more players are pursuing claims, many of them by satisfying California’s unique requirement that they played at least one game within state borders.”

By last spring, teams that were watching or fighting similar actions included at least the Bengals, Dolphins, Saints, Titans and Rams. The Titans and Bengals had already begun inserting specific language into player contracts restricting workers’ comp actions to their home states.

The battle expands

Now, the Miami Dolphins are fighting on another front. According to a Feb. 14 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the workers’ comp issue has become part of “the war” between owners and players:

Kendall M. Newson caught just two passes in his National Football League career, but now the former Miami Dolphin is the star of a legal battle, fought Downtown last week, in the war between the teams and players.

Lawyers for the Dolphins asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan to put the kibosh on Mr. Newson’s workers’ compensation case related to a 2005 knee injury, sustained in a preseason game at Heinz Field, that ended his career. They said the claim should be decided by an arbitrator, not by Workers’ Compensation Judge Pamela L. Briston.

Lawyers for Mr. Newson and the NFL Players Association countered that there was no legal precedent for a federal judge stopping a state workers’ compensation case and added that such a measure would be especially damaging due to the current contract dispute between the league and players.

In other words, the scenario is escalating. For Newson, prevailing under Pennsylvania law would mean the difference of nearly $4,000 a year plus medical benefits that his attorneys say are better than those available in Florida. Dolphins’ management wants the case to be settled via arbitration in Florida: one player’s benefits may not seem like much, but increased benefits for hundreds of players, over time, add up significantly.

Florida’s new workers’ comp bill

An unrelated issue in Florida is a new bill that is designed to:

  • modernize and set standards for certain underwriting ratings
  • create a new position within the Office of Insurance Regulation, called the Worker’s Compensation Administrator, which would
  • reduce overlap among current responsibilities spread over several offices.

According to a Feb. 10 piece at InsuranceJournal.com, “In 2003, lawmakers created a new subplan D that was designed to provide coverage to small employees with 15 or fewer employees and non-profit organizations. Primarily, the subplan was provided as a safety net for small contractors after lawmakers ended workers’ compensation exemptions in the construction industry. Unlike the other three subplans that had actuarially sound rates, subplan D rates were capped at a small percentage above rates charged in the voluntary market and were assessable policies. The subplan quickly ran up a deficit and in 2004 lawmakers appropriated money from the state’s Workers’ Compensation Administrative Trust Fund to retire the shortage. They also eliminated the subplans in favor of a three tier rating plan.”

In other words, the former “fix” for small contractors didn’t work out. Reportedly, this bill is on a fast-track to becoming new legislation. We’ll keep tracking it and report as developments are known.

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Frequently enough, a worker’s compensation case may be so complex as to demand legal representation. However, sometimes what seems like a cut-and-dried situation to an injured worker may result in a smaller award than envisioned–or even a denial. Have you, a friend or a loved one been injured on the job? Whether you’re merely seeking answers about your rights or believe a lawsuit may be necessary, be sure to seek counsel with attorneys trained and experienced in workers’ compensation. Here’s some resources:

Workers compensation basics

Injury on the job

Filing a claim

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