SBD/October 9, 2013/Sports in Society

New California Law Significantly Limits Workers' Comp Claims By Pro Athletes

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After more than a year of "intense lobbying by professional sports leagues, California has slammed the door on most athletes looking to file injury claims in the state, including those with serious brain injuries," according to Bensinger & Lifsher of the L.A. TIMES. Gov. Jerry Brown yesterday signed legislation that "significantly limits workers' compensation claims by pro players." It is a "significant victory" for the NFL, which "has been trying to reduce its financial exposure to concussions and other brain injuries." The league in August agreed to a $765M settlement with more than 4,500 former players, but the NFL's legislative win "could be far more valuable over the long term." It allows the league to "sidestep exposure to thousands of serious head and brain trauma claims by out-of-state players who are no longer eligible to file in California." The law "was the subject of nearly 18 months of lobbying" by the NFL, MLB and other leagues and workers' comp insurers. It "ultimately found the backing of nearly every member of the Legislature; just five voted against it." More than 3,400 former NFL players since '06 "have filed for workers' compensation in California alleging head or brain injuries." California is "one of only a handful of states to recognize cumulative trauma." In addition, California's statute of limitations for workers' comp filings "includes a provision allowing some workers to file long after retirement," which has made California a "magnet for claims." The new law "applies only to professional football, baseball, basketball, ice hockey and soccer" (L.A. TIMES, 10/9).

NOT EVERY PLAYER SHUT OUT: In S.F., Bob Egelko noted athletes "will still be able to seek compensation benefits from their teams, but only in their home state and not in the California system." The primary exceptions to the new legislation "are players who had previously spent at least two years, or at least 20 percent of their career, with teams in California" (SFGATE.com, 10/8). California state Assembly member Henry Perea said that the California Insurance Guarantee Association has paid nearly $42M "in claims to professional athletes" since '02 (AP, 10/8).

BREAK FOR NFL: In L.A., Michael Hiltzik writes the law gives the NFL "an enormous break." The measure "may have been the most dishonest bill to come through the state Legislature this year." It was the "product of relentless lobbying by the major pro sports leagues, especially the NFL, which unabashedly misrepresented its effect to the soft-headed state legislators who sponsored and passed it." Leagues "will make out like bandits" from this law, as they have been "playing California like a harp for years" (L.A. TIMES, 10/9).
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