By JOSHUA CLIFTON, a Chicago-based writer who covers workers' comp and disability issues
As it stands, cases applying California's cumulative trauma code have only been tried in professional sports.
Insurance experts believe, however, that the issue may only represent the tip of an iceberg.
The transportation, healthcare and airline industries--industries that employ transient workers in physically demanding jobs--may be more vulnerable than sports franchise owners, said Alex Fairly, senior vice president for insurance brokerage at Willis in Amarillo, Texas.
The California's workers' compensation statute could permit a truck driver who worked for a firm based in Oregon, but regularly drove shipments through California on his way to Texas, to file a cumulative trauma claim in state.
"Just look at the number of interstate truckers," said Timothy Peterson, a lawyer representing the Cincinnati Bengals and New Orleans Saints in a case against a former player. "This is where I see the real danger."
The only reason an attorney hasn't found a bunch of 80-year-old truckers to file claims is because the trucking industry isn't aware of the problem, Peterson said.
"If the trucker lives in Oregon and works for an Oregon-based company, why would the employer ever think it has a potential California problem?" Peterson said.
Should other industries begin filing claims, it could change California's workers' compensation landscape, Fairly said.
Insurance carriers are also vulnerable, because they haven't underwritten for the risk, said Peterson, partner with Peterson & Colantoni in Ladera Ranch, Calif.
"I believe it is so immeasurable that you couldn't even begin to put a number on it. And the thing is, you couldn't fix the problem even if you started today," Peterson said. "There is so much exposure out there and it's just waiting for someone to light the fuse."
November 1, 2010
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