SBJ/20100830/Labor & Agents

Clubs seek friendly venues for workers’ comp cases

Multiple MLB clubs have added clauses to the contracts of newly drafted players that require workers’ compensation claims to be filed outside the club’s home state, in a state with laws more favorable toward employers, something lawyers say is unenforceable.

The Los Angeles Angels have added clauses that say any workers’ comp claim brought by a player drafted this year must be brought in Arizona, instead of in California, where the law is much more favorable to employees, sources said. Angels spokesman Tim Mead confirmed that such language was in contracts, but would not comment further.

Rob Manfred, MLB executive vice president of labor relations, said, “There are a number of clubs that regulate workers’ comp claims via special covenants in minor league contracts.”

The cost of workers’ compensation claims is “a huge issue” for MLB clubs, Manfred said, although he would not provide cost numbers. “We have a lot of minor league players, way more players than in football, and in any professional sport there is a lot of work-related injuries,” he said.

Manfred would not say how many clubs were adding the clauses, or whether the commissioner’s office was advising them to do so. “I am not going to get into advice we give clubs,” he said.

But some lawyers who were asked about such clauses, including NFL Players Association general counsel Richard Berthelsen, said they were unenforceable.

Manfred said, “Dick is entitled to his opinion. But I am sure all the clubs routinely get advice about the clauses they have in their contracts and they are including them on the premise that they are, in fact, enforceable.”

Berthelsen retorted, “Manfred may disagree, but no less an authority than the U.S. Supreme Court is totally on the players’ side in this argument.”

Berthelsen was referring to a 1935 decision, known as Alaska Packers, in which the court ruled that a California law saying that no employee could give up his right to file in that state was valid and therefore provisions in contracts stating that you could not file in California were invalid.

Ned Ehrlich, an attorney who has represented injured professional athletes in workers’ comp claims, agrees that the clauses are unenforceable. “You can’t contract that right away,” he said.

Agents said the provisions began appearing in minor league contracts last year. One agent said virtually all MLB clubs were insisting on them in one form or another. “I think that would be exaggerating,” Manfred said. “A number of clubs are using them.”

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