New California Law Limits Workers’ Comp for Pro Athletes

By DON THOMPSON and LAURA OLSON | October 10, 2013

Professional athletes who spend most of their careers with teams in other states will be prohibited from filing workers’ compensation claims in California, under a bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

AB1309 will close a legal loophole that has let athletes collect large cash settlements by claiming they suffered cumulative trauma during their professional careers, even if they have little to no employment history in California, Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, said Tuesday.

He said the California Insurance Guarantee Association has paid nearly $42 million in claims to professional athletes since 2002. An average of 34 new claims are being filed each month.NFL football players

“Our workers’ compensation system will no longer be unfairly targeted by out-of-state professional athletes and California businesses will finally be protected from these claims,” Perea said in a statement.

Supporters of the law have argued that the claims put a burden on the state workers’ compensation system and could raise insurance costs. The compensation itself is paid by employers, including the team owners, not by taxpayers.

Opponents said the legislation was orchestrated by the owners of football, baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer teams to avoid liability for cumulative injuries.

Two dozen former players, including San Francisco 49ers defensive player Dana Stubblefield and Reggie Williams of the Cincinnati Bengals, spoke out against the bill during a news conference at the state Capitol in April.

Brown announced his signing of the bill without comment.

The law brings California into line with the majority of states, which limit such claims.

California has been one of nine states that permit workers’ compensation claims on cumulative trauma injuries like those claimed by professional athletes over time. The state also has had broad rules on how long former athletes can file claims in California.

Proponents said the athletes should get compensation for their injuries in the state where they were primarily employed. The bill will allow claims that already have been filed to continue through the process.

Former California professional athletes can still file claims under the bill. Players employed by out-of-state teams will be allowed to file claims if they spent more than 20 percent of their professional time in California or worked for a California-based team for part of their professional or semi-professional career.

“This new law sets reasonable standards to close an expensive loophole unique to California and to professional sports,” Dennis Kuhl, chairman of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, said in a statement released through Perea’s office. He said the law benefits not only sports teams but “all California businesses and their workers and ensures that our Workers’ Compensation system is there for in-state players.”

A spokesman for the NFL Players Association referred a request for comment to the group’s legal department, which did not immediately respond. A representative for a coalition of labor groups that opposed the bill did not return a voicemail message Tuesday afternoon.

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