Traveling workers can pursue workers' comp claims for injuries that occurred while they were working in other states. Some athletes are seeking benefits from states with higher payments than those where their teams are located, exposing employers to potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars per claim.
"It's a huge problem," said Timothy Peterson, managing partner with the legal firm Peterson, Colantoni, Collins & Davis, in Ladera Ranch, Calif. "Teams are getting somewhere between five and 12 of these a month."
Peterson will be a panelist at the session, Lessons From the Big Leagues: How Professional Sports Successfully Manages Workers' Compensation, at the 20th National Workers' Compensation and Disability ConferenceŽ & Expo, produced by LRP Publications. He recently was successful in litigating against claims filed by former players with the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals.
The typical payoff for the out-of-state athletes' claims is in the neighborhood of $125,000 to $200,000. Peterson says six attorneys at his firm are handling 700 claims from former athletes, and he estimates there are more than 3,000 such cases open in California alone.
"We're talking about guys who played in the '80s and '90s," he said. "It's unbelievable the rate at which we see these claims filed."
Many athletes are seeking benefits through the California workers' comp system, which typically pays more than other states. Peterson says it seems to be the work of a handful of "very aggressive" attorneys who are getting out the word to retired athletes that they may be entitled to more benefits.
"Basically, a 55-year-old man shows up with a disability and it's very difficult to figure out what portion of that disability is attributable to his football career and what part is because he's 55," Peterson said. "This is an aggravation times 10 for the teams. They're literally blowing money out the door."
One report says 95 percent of the workers' comp claims for the Jacksonville Jaguars of the National Football League have been filed in California even though the team played only five of its 224 games there from 1995 to 2009.
The Jaguars have teamed up with other Florida sports franchises to do something about what the owners say is a loophole allowing players to seek claims in other states. The state Legislature recently passed and sent to the governor a bill that would end the practice.
"In California we have a labor code ...that says if you're only temporarily in California performing services for your employer and you are injured but the employer had insurance to cover you while you were out here, you have to go back to your home state to file your workers' comp claim ? so long as your home state has a statute that recognizes the extraterritorial provisions of California's labor code," Peterson said. Several other states, including Ohio and Nevada, have such laws on the books.
He believes Florida's Legislature has crafted a good, similar statute. "It would require Florida employees to go back to Florida to litigate their workers' comp claims," he said. "In essence, California would send Florida workers back to Florida."
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
June 27, 2011
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