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Ninth Circuit Makes It Difficult for Athletes to Receive Worker’s Comp in California


September 7, 2012
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For years, professional athletes have claimed Worker’s Comp in California even if they only played there as a member of a visitor team. The state is an attractive place to file a claim given its favorable worker’s compensation system.

Under California law, there is no time limit for filing claims. In addition, the state allows claims for cumulative trauma, which is often the case with athletic injuries. Finally, claimants need not be employed in California, meaning that athletes who participate in a game in the state can still qualify.

However, a recent court ruling may make it a lot more difficult for athletes to file claims in California without also showing a nexus between the state and the injury claimed. In Matthews v. Nat’l Football League Mgt. Council, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Houston Oiler and Tennessee Titans Bruce Matthews was ineligible for workers’ compensation benefits in California because he couldn’t show his injury took place in the state.

Mathews filed the lawsuit seeking to void an arbitration award prohibiting him from claiming worker’s benefits in California. In reaching its decision on that issue, the Ninth Circuit examined whether Mathews would even be eligible for such benefits.

Although Mathews played thirteen games in California during his nineteen-year career, the court determined that such contacts with the state were not sufficient. In refusing to nullify the arbitration agreement, the court highlighted, “[Matthews] did not allege facts showing an injury in California or any burden on the state’s medical system, and it is not clear that California would extend its workers’ compensation regime to cover the cumulative injuries Matthews claims, given his limited contacts with the state.”

This sports law decision certainly raises the bar for professional athletes hoping to take advantage of California’s expansive worker’s compensation system. It will be interesting to see if this emboldens the league to challenge the numerous claims that are currently pending in California. If so, players should be prepared to show some nexus between their injuries and games played in California.

For more information about this case and its potential implications, please contact Anthony Caruso, Chair of Scarinci Hollenbeck’s Sports and Entertainment Law Group.