N.C. Former Panthers Players Score Touchdown In Workers’ Comp Court

October 14, 2005

A handful of former Carolina Panthers players who were injured playing football have won their cases before the North Carolina Court of Appeals and one before the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Jim Lore, a Raleigh attorney who has handled the former Panthers players’ cases, told the Times-News there’s really nothing new about the rulings. The same laws and standards are being applied to another type of job.

Lore, who said he started handling workers’ compensation cases for injured NFL football players when the Panthers played their home games in Clemson, S.C., said, “Everybody’s got a different job.

“Just because a player has a contract doesn’t mean that he forfeits his workers’ comp rights, Lore said. “You can’t overturn a worker’s comp rights by contract.”

The players filing workers’ comp claims that have made it to the appellate court level include: Leonard Larramore, who injured his back during practice on June 8, 1995; Charles Smith III, who injured his knee on Sept. 17, 2000. Smith’s contract was terminated the following year; Michael Swift, who broke his right fibula during the 15th game of the regular season in 1999; and Dusty Renfro, who injured his wrist Aug. 7, 2001, during a preseason practice session.

In the Renfro case, attorneys for Richardson Sports Ltd., doing business as the Carolina Panthers, contended that the Industrial Commission, which handles cases of workers who get injured on the job, erroneously found that Renfro sustained a compensable injury. According to the ruling in the case, the Panthers argued that Renfro was not “entitled to workers’ compensation benefits because plaintiff was engaged in his normal work routine when he was injured.”

The court disagreed.

Lore told the Times-News that such an argument would amount to the same as saying a construction worker who fell off a steel beam would not be eligible for compensation because such injuries are common during the course of business.

“Is that what workers’ comp was intended to do?” he asked. “It really is a fundamental question of what you think workers’ comp should be.”

Blizzard said that workers’ compensation was intended to be a safety net for someone who was injured to be provided a payment while he went to the doctor until he was ready to go back to work.

Lore disagrees, saying that a one-shot injury suffered by some players can be career-ending.

“For a professional football player, a one-shot knee injury is the kind of thing that puts you out for life,” he said.

And while some professional players, once injured, go on to work in some sports-related field, not all are able to.

He gives sports broadcasting as an example.

“There are only a few people who have the skills and the gift of gab to do it,” he said.

Blizzard counters that the workers’ comp system is being abused and is being used as a retirement plan, which it was never intended to do.

“The professional athlete is going to come to a point in time where he can’t continue to do that particular job at that level whether he’s injured or not,” Blizzard said.

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