Orange County Register by Curt Hagman –
March 20, 2013:
California is a magnet for millionaire athletes seeking to take advantage of California workers’ compensation system. Astonishingly, it is all perfectly legal.
For many California workers, losing income from getting hurt on the job could put them and their families into poverty. That is why our state has workers’ compensation, to provide medical care and payments to help employees as they heal. Despite its flaws, the system has worked well for employees and employers alike, ensuring that injured workers, especially those in low-wage jobs, receive the benefits they need and deserve.
Regrettably, more than 4,500 professional athletes have found a loophole in our system. They have been able to score six-figure paydays even though they played perhaps only a few games in the state, costing the state’s workers’ compensation system millions of dollars.
Former Dallas Cowboys star and “Dancing with the Stars” contestant Michael Irvin received $249,000 from our state. Former Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis received a $199,000 injury settlement from workers’ compensation for his football injuries despite having NFL health care and a $6.8 million contract.
While this might have been more acceptable had they played for California NFL teams, they played only sporadic road games in the Golden State. Remember, they were already covered by their own team’s insurance, disability insurance and their own pensions.
In addition, 99 percent of these claims are for cash, not medical benefits. While taxpayers are not liable for these payments, businesses fund workers’ comp, and, when their costs rise, they ultimately pass those costs on to the consumer.
Athletes file their claims in California, as opposed to other states, because we have more liberal laws on workers’ compensation. Unlike other states, California provides additional money for the cumulative effect of sports injuries. Athletes also have more time to file a claim here than they do in other states.
In addition, California judges have ruled that any professional athlete who plays here can receive benefits for injuries, even if they played one game in our state. Therefore, nearly all pro athletes have a legal basis to apply for state benefits.
When the state of California pays six figures to an injured out-of-state millionaire, fewer resources are available for the average worker, who often desperately needs assistance to make ends meet. This is unacceptable at a time when our workers’ compensation system is struggling to meet its obligations, and job creators are already paying high insurance bills.
I co-authored Assembly Bill 1309, which would prevent more of these outrageous abuses. We need to close this loophole. Reforms should protect the ability of athletes to seek cumulative-trauma benefits under state law, only as long as they play for a California-based team.
As negotiations on a potential legislative solution to close this ambiguity moves forward, I hope athletes and the leagues that employ or employed them will work out their own solution. Players who put their bodies through abuse on the playing field deserve to have their medical expenses fully paid for by their teams; they should not exploit resources that are intended to help the average worker recover from a costly on-the-job injury.