Athlete’s Cumulative Injury Partially Sustained in CA Not Compensable in CA

A retired professional football player suffered 46% permanent disability and a need for future medical treatment. He applied for workers’ compensation in California. The retired player sought compensation for cumulative industrial injury to numerous body parts while employed as a professional football player by the Cincinnati Bengals when he and the team played one game in California. The workers' compensation administrative law judge found in favor of the football player.


The Cincinnati Bengals petitioned for reconsideration of the Findings of Fact, Award, and Order of the workers' compensation administrative law judge. The Bengals' petition was granted. The Appeals Board voted to assign the case to the Appeals Board as a whole for an en banc decision in order to secure uniformity of decision in the future on the important legal issues presented. Both the language of the California Labor Code and the substantial connection between the business of professional football and the state of California supports the application of California law for the benefit of professional football players who are regularly employed and foreseeably injured here. Over the past 50 years, more NFL regular season games have been played in California than in any other state, and the annual Super Bowl and Pro Bowl games have been played in this state 34 times. The impacts of this case are not limited to the NFL or to professional football.


The California Workers' Compensation Appeals Board reversed the finding that the retired player and the Ohio football team were exempted from provisions of California's workers' compensation law by statute, and thus his injury was not compensable in California. The board held that an employee and his or her employer are exempted by statute from the provisions of California workers' compensation law when the employee was hired outside of California and all of the following apply: (1) the employee is temporarily within California doing work for the employer; (2) the employer furnished coverage under the workers' compensation or similar laws of another state that covers the employee's employment while in California; (3) the other state recognizes California's extraterritorial provisions; and, (4) the other state likewise exempts California employers and employees covered by California's workers' compensation laws from the application of its workers' compensation or similar laws.


The court reasoned that although the retired player had paid state tax on income earned while in California and the statute of limitations had run on his claim under Ohio workers' compensation law, the evidence demonstrated that he had been temporarily in California doing work for the Ohio team when the team played one game in California. The Ohio team had provided workers' compensation coverage under Ohio law for the player while he was in California. Ohio recognized California's extraterritorial provisions and exempted California employers and employees covered by California's laws from the application of Ohio’s workers’ compensation laws. Based on these findings, the court concluded that the Cincinnati Bengals satisfied all of the statutory conditions for exemption when the player was temporarily in California to play a game.


The plain meaning of the word “temporary” compels the conclusion that the player was only “temporarily” doing work in California for the Bengals within the meaning of the California Labor Code when he was in the state for one game while employed by that team.


The board noted that the California Labor Code should be construed so that it does not limit the board's jurisdiction over employees “regularly employed” in California. It should be construed so as not to disrupt the allocation of liability and separate proceedings intended by the California legislature when it amended the California Labor Code to apply to cumulative injuries. It should not be construed to exempt Ohio and potentially other out-of-state employers from all liability for cumulative injuries when those employers are not held to the same insurance coverage standards that apply to California employers. The board reversed the prior decision in part because it did not accomplish any of these goals and was contrary to the policies underlying California's workers' compensation laws.


See: Carroll v. Cincinnati Bengals, 2013 WL 3010765 (Cal.W.C.A.B., June 18, 2013) (not designated for publication).