California bill may limit workers’ comp benefits for pro athletes

California lawmakers are considering a bill that would limit the rights of professional athletes to receive workers' compensation benefits in California if they have spent most of their careers playing for out-of-state teams.

The state Assembly approved the measure by a wide margin on May 3, 2013, voting 57-1 in favor of the legislation. Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, was the only dissenting voice in the vote. The legislation will now go before the California Senate.

Opponents say bill would let owners off the hook

As reported by the Insurance Journal, Assemblyman Hernandez said that professional athletes playing in California should be treated like all other workers in the state, regardless of where their teams are located. Pointing out that visiting athletes are subject to California's speed limits and other laws, Hernandez argued in favor of preserving equal access to workers' compensation benefits for professional athletes who sustain work-related injuries or illnesses.

Other opponents of the bill, including labor organizations like the California Labor Coalition, have criticized the measure as allowing the owners of professional athletic teams to escape responsibility for their employees' health and safety. In a statement quoted by the Los Angeles Times, the CLC rejected the idea that the legislation would close a "loophole" in the current law: "There is no loophole. Those players paid taxes in California, and California provides a forum for workers' comp cases to be heard."

Supporters say current system is too costly

Supporters of the legislation, meanwhile, argue that the California workers' compensation system has become a magnet for out-of-state athletes because it offers benefits that are not available in other states, and because state law allows older athletes to receive benefits relatively easily, in some cases well after they have retired from professional sports.

As a result, some proponents of the bill contend, the California workers' compensation system has been burdened by claims from retired athletes who spent most of their careers playing for teams in other states.

Bill would place strict limits on workers' comp benefits

California is one of only a handful of states to allow workers' compensation benefits for cumulative trauma injuries, which are the source of many workers' compensation claims filed in California by out-of-state athletes. Unlike other types of injuries that result from a specific incident, such as sprains or broken bones, cumulative trauma injuries occur over an extended period time as a result of continuous wear and tear on the body. Professional football players and other athletes often suffer cumulative trauma injuries after several years of rough play.

Under the proposed law, professional athletes who retire to California from out-of-state teams could only receive workers' compensation benefits if they played for a California team for at least 80 percent of their careers. The bill would also bar claims for cumulative trauma injuries unless the athlete was employed by a California team for at least eight consecutive years. Additional limitations would also apply, including a provision that would require athletes to file a claim within one year after receiving a diagnosis or playing their final game, whichever is later.

Take action quickly when injured on the job

Even under existing law, strict time limits apply and other eligibility requirements apply to California workers' compensation claims, so it is important for injured workers to seek help quickly in order to protect their eligibility for benefits. People who suffer work-related injuries or illnesses in California are encouraged to consult with a knowledgeable workers' compensation lawyer who can help them secure the benefits they deserve.