An attempt by the New Orleans Saints to lower its workers’ compensation costs for injured players has mushroomed into an issue that would apply to all businesses and employees in Louisiana.
The Saints were pushing a bill by Rep. Cameron Henry that would require professional athletes that play for Louisiana teams to be subject to workers’ compensation benefits under Louisiana law if they are injured in a game or practice.
But with legal concerns about the carve-out specifically for athletes, Henry broadened the measure to apply to all workers in Louisiana.
The House Labor and Industrial Committee approved the bill in a 6-3 vote, sending it to the House floor for debate – despite concerns lawmakers, workers’ compensation attorneys and others didn’t really know how the broader language could affect rank-and-file employees in the state.
Most of the debate centered on NFL football and a dispute between team owners and players about injury claims.
Bill supporters said the measure was aimed at professional athletes and former pro athletes who are filing claims in California, where the laws are more liberal – and more expensive to a team.
Gary Delahoussaye, with Eustis Insurance, has handled the Saints insurance policy for two decades.
He said the NFL is being bombarded with trauma claims filed in California and going back decades from retired players who are legally able to file there because they played at least one game in California or had a California agent.
The types of trauma claims allowed in California wouldn’t be covered under Louisiana’s workers’ compensation laws. The claims, which can reach up to $250,000 each, are boosting the Saints’ costs and insurance bills, Delahoussaye said.
“We’re not talking about chump change here. This is a lot of money we’re talking about,” he said.
The NFL Players Association argued that the claims complaints should be addressed in the collective bargaining agreement between players and team owners and that Henry’s bill will end up in court if it passes.
“With all due respect to Louisiana and any other state, you can’t deal with our issues in California. Only we can deal with that,” said players union general counsel Richard Berthelsen.
He added, “The New Orleans Saints are not suffering financially. The New Orleans Saints are doing quite well, thank you.”
Berthelsen said many of these claims are being filed decades later because the teams didn’t properly notify players of their workers’ compensation rights to make those claims.
Opponents also said passage of a Louisiana law that bars players from filing workers’ compensation claims in other states could discourage some players from joining the Saints team.
Beyond the NFL-themed debate, several members of the committee questioned the impact of Henry’s bill on workers’ compensation claims for other employees around the state.
“I’m concerned about passing something that we don’t know the unintended consequences of. Is this not something the players and owners could work out in their contract negotiations?” said Rep. Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge, chairman of the committee.
Henry said the measure could be tweaked on the House floor to address any concerns.
Ponti joined Reps. Herbert Dixon, D-Alexandria, and John LaBruzzo, R-Metairie, in voting against the bill. Voting for the measure were Henry and Reps. Jim Morris, R-Oil City; Scott Simon, R-Abita Springs; Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge; Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge; and Patrick Williams, D-Shreveport.
On the Web:
House Bill 1097 can be found at www.legis.state.la.us
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