Professional Athletes and California Workers’ Compensation Claims: A Defense Perspective
ALEXANDRA P. J. DUNLEVY, ESQ.
San Diego, California
Professional sports claims are not new to California. However, in the last decade there has been a significant increase in professional athletes filing claims in California. This is largely due to the liberal construction of workers’ compensation laws, including the laws that establishjurisdiction and those that allow cumulative trauma injuries.
The dispute regarding professional athlete claims centers not on whether athletes have a right to file for workers’ compensation benefits but whether their remedy lies in the California workers’ compensation system. Almost all states acknowledge professional athletes are employees and as such are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Only Florida, Massachusetts, and Wyoming exclude athletes from workers’ compensation programs. One element of unfairness arises from non-California athletic teams being brought to California to defend claims where there are only minimal connections to the state and from the resulting disproportionate burden on California teams to pay claims for every athlete who has ever played for them, no matter how distant or short the employment period. Further, due to the lack of an enforceable statute of limitations, players from as far back as the 1960s can pursue claims now. The results include difficulty in conducting discovery, unforeseen costs, and unfairness to employers and insurers.