Bill Limits California Workers’ Comp for Pro Athletes

By LAURA OLSON | May 6, 2013

Professional athletes who spent most of their careers with teams in other states would no longer be able to file workers’ compensation claims in California under a bill that passed the state Assembly on Thursday.

Supporters of the bill from Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, say out-of-state players should not be allowed to file claims in California for non-specific cumulative injuries. Such claims place a burden on the state’s workers’ compensation system and could raise insurance costs, Perea said.

Several former professional athletes, most of them from the NFL, attended a news conference in Sacramento last month to say why they opposed the bill, which would apply to athletes in football, baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer. It also would apply to those who played in the minor league systems of professional teams.

The former players who spoke out against AB1309 described it as an attempt by team owners to avoid liability for legitimate injuries.

“I agree that professional athletes deserve workers’ compensation benefits just like everyone else,” Perea said. “However, there is no reason for an out-of-state athlete to file for benefits in California when benefits are available to them in their principal state of employment.”

California is one of nine states that allow workers’ compensation claims on cumulative trauma injuries, for which out-of-state players are seeking compensation. Workers’ compensation awards are paid by employers.

State law also has broad limits on filing workers’ compensation claims, based on when a player knew of the injury and whether they were properly notified of their compensation rights when they retired.

Under Perea’s bill, workers’ compensation claims would have to be filed within a year of an athlete’s final game or of a physician diagnosing the condition, whichever is later. Players retiring from out-of-state teams would still be allowed to file claims if they spent 80 percent of their career with a California team.

The legislation passed the Assembly 57-1 on Thursday, with Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, voting against.

Hernandez said professional athletes who play in California, regardless of where their team is located, should be treated the same as anyone else working in the state and allowed equal access to the workers’ compensation system.

“If these athletes were speeding down our roads, breaking our laws here, they would be subject to California law,” he said in an interview.

A coalition of labor groups opposing the bill, including the California Labor Coalition and the Labor Federation, said it would set a dangerous precedent for limiting access to workers’ compensation benefits.

“At its core, AB1309 only helps professional sports team owners circumvent their responsibility under the law to the health and safety of their employees,” the groups said in a statement after the vote.

The bill now heads to the Senate.

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