NFL Bounties – Intentional Injuries

NFL players can qualify for workers’ compensation benefits

The injury rate in the NFL is 100 percent. If you stay around long enough you will have multiple injuries. This high “natural” injury rate makes it hard to understand how a team could give awards to players who injure other players, but that’s just what the New Orleans Saints did, and now appeals are being filed against rulings that impose penalties for those acts. Most NFL players are high wage earners and have an average of five years in the league. They don’t need opposing players intentionally trying to hurt them. It’s already dangerous enough out there on the field.

Can you imagine the uproar if management at a business told workers they should intentionally hurt other workers of a competitor? The idea of intentional injuries is reprehensible and in North Carolina our state Supreme Court ruled in Woodson v. Rowland (1991) that if an employer knowingly places an employee in a position where the employee is substantially certain to be seriously injured or cause death, then the employer can be sued in civil court by the employee or the survivors of the employee. The workers’ compensation statute, with limited benefits, is the exclusive remedy for employees, except for this one exception.

It is hard to find a case that rises to the extremely high standard set forth in Woodson. Here are two examples that didn’t quality:

  1. A 17 year-old boy was pulled into a pallet shredder and crushed to death. Although there were 11 safety violations by the employer and the machine’s guards had been removed, no civil action was allowed.
  2. A man lost his left leg when he fell into an auger with inoperable safety switches. No civil claim was allowed.

This is a tough standard. Employers gave up liability defenses when they accepted the workers’ compensation system and one of the most powerful things they got in exchange was the waiver of the right of an employee to seek damages in civil court, before a jury. The NFL, as an employer, is no different than other employers in this respect. Given the serious injuries sustained by professional football players, the NFL should not complain when compensation claims are filed, usually because of career ending injuries.