Category Archives: Sports

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.

Pro Athletes Need Worker’s Compensation Too

Today’s post comes to us from Tom Domer of Wisconsin.

Most of us do not associate a professional athlete’s injury with workers’ compensation. Because of pro athletes’ generous contract wages, and the relatively modest recoveries available under workers’ compensation, most fans don’t recognize that when it comes to receiving workers’ compensation, professional athletes are just like other office or factory workers who can recover worker’s compensation when injured.

Not every professional athlete, however, has a contract worth millions of dollars. Some of the athletes injured on minor league teams literally make no more than minimum wage, and receipt of workers’ compensation benefits is significant for those athletes.

Not every professional athlete, however, has a contract worth millions of dollars. Some of the athletes injured on minor league teams literally make no more than minimum wage, and receipt of workers’ compensation benefits is significant for those athletes. Wisconsin law places a cap on the amount of money an athlete can receive for his injury. The maximum weekly wage for 2012 is $1,281, yielding a temporary disability rate of $854. The right to workers’ compensation is contained in the collective bargaining agreements with the respective players unions in football, basketball and baseball. In Wisconsin, insurance companies charge employers like the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers, and Milwaukee Bucks for workers’ compensation insurance.
Pro athletes regularly get hurt on the job, but few pursue workers’comp claims. In the ten years from 1994 through 2004 a total of 37 cases involving the Packers were litigated, and in the same period 20 cased involving the Brewers were contested. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sunday, June 25, 2006 “Paying for Pain”) Cases that went to a hearing were even more rare : only four cases involving the Packers went to a hearing in that ten year period.

It’s a popular notion that athletes assume the risk of injury, since that is the nature of professional sports. Some states have bought into this concept and leave professional athletes unprotected.

Athletes apply for worker’s compensation largely for two reasons: vocational retraining and Loss of Earning Capacity. Many pro athletes have not completed college, or when they did, they were not scholars, so the only thing they know how to do is play sports. If they get wrecked and cannot play, they have to find a way to earn a living. Loss of Earning Capacity is measured by the player’s residual ability to earn a living considering the limitations of the injury.

It’s a popular notion that athletes assume the risk of injury, since that is the nature of professional sports. Some states have bought into this concept and leave professional athletes unprotected. In Pennsylvania recently the Courts ruled the Pittsburgh Steelers do not have to pay the attorney fees related to a former player’s workers’ compensation case, because although he clearly suffered injuries while with the team, the team argued he was not “disabled” since he continued to play for other pro teams. Pittsburgh Post Gazzette, April 24, 2012. All pro athletes are covered in Wisconsin.

NFL Concussion Suits Barred by “Exclusive Remedy”? Why can’t I sue my employer?

Today we have a guest post from our colleague Tom Domer or Wisconsin.

We get calls every day from angry injured workers who want to sue their employer for negligence. It could be an employer removing a guard on a machine, a foreman ignoring a safety rule, or an injury caused by an employer’s failure to train an employee. Many employees are genuinely and bitterly disappointed when we explain a worker cannot sue his employer for negligence and that his only “exclusive” remedy is through worker’s compensation.

Aaron Rodgers concussionIn liability suits filed by hundreds of former pro football players who suffer from concussion-related injuries, the players claim the league negligently mislead them about the dangers of concussions. Attorneys for the injured players indicate it is likely the NFL will argue that football players should be covered exclusively by worker’s compensation.

The deal cut by employers and workers in Wisconsin in 1911 still stands: Employers give up the right to common law defenses (contributory and co-employee negligence, assumption of risk) for a fixed schedule of benefits; employees give up the right to sue their employer in tort (and to recover tort-like damages) in return for worker’s compensation benefits. No matter how nefarious the employer or Continue reading

Toradol And Intentional Injuries To NFL Football Players

New Orleans Saints BountyI just returned from a yearly meeting of about 50 workers’ compensation lawyers who are approved by the National Football League Players’ Association (NFLPA) to represent NFL players in the workers’ compensation field.  My firm helps the Carolina Panthers players if they need advice or legal representation in a claim, which are rarely made, but are sometimes filed if there is an injury that ends a professional career.

What would you think about an employer who paid its employees to intentionally injure you? Accidents happen and no one wants those in the workplace, but a deliberate injury is another mattter. That happened with the New Orleans Saints. Coaches paid athletes to intentionally hurt others and knock them out of games. Stiff sanctions have been imposed by the NFL and there will be more fallout from this action by the Saints.

On April 14 The New York Times reported that many professional athletes have been given shots of Toradol, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that is given in emergency rooms to relieve pain. It numbs the affected area and allows the player to play and ignore the warning signs (pain and inflammation) of injury. A lawsuit has been filed claiming the NFL knew or should have known that the indiscriminate use of Toradol could cause further injury, and the NFL  has denied the claims. Stay tuned for a follow up article on these allegations.

Workers' Compensation and the NCAA's "Student Athlete"

One example of how the NCAA benefits economically from student athletes.

I grew up in Chapel Hill, N.C. and graduated from the University of North Carolina when the concept of big-time football was not an issue. In Chapel Hill the NCAA was known primarily for imposing sanctions on basketball and eliminating the Dixie Classic, a holiday tournament in the early 60’s which brought visiting teams to Raleigh to play UNC and N.C.State. Some folks still remember Oscar Robertson and a powerful Cincinnati team leaving after being defeated in that tournament.

Recently, the history of the NCAA has been explored in The Atlantic (October, 2011) in an article called “The Shame of College Sports” by Taylor Branch (a 1968 graduate of UNC). Interestingly, the role of workers’ compensation was discussed when explaining the need to give the NCAA a more solid foundation.

The Supreme Court of Colorado determined that workers’ compensation should be denied because the college was “not in the football business.”

The NCAA developed the term “student-athlete” in the 1950s “…when the widow of Ray Dennison, who had died from a head injury received while playing football in Colorado for the Fort Lewis A&M Aggies, filed for workmens’-compensation death benefits.” The Supreme Court of Colorado eventually determined that the claim should be denied because the college was “not in the football business.”

School officials said they recruited him as a student, not an athlete. Waldrep told Branch that was absurd.

In 1974 a Texas Christian running back, Kent Waldrep, was paralyzed after being tackled by several Alabama players at a game in Birmingham. TCU paid his medical bills for nine months and then stopped, and a workers’ compensation claim was eventually Continue reading

Could more effective workers' compensation law have kept Mickey Mantle's dad alive?

Mickey Mantle's father never lived to see his son's incredible career in baseball.

In The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood by Jane Leavy, the author goes into great detail about Mickey’s father, Mutt Mantle, who worked in a lead mine in Commerce, Oklahoma in the 1930s and 40s. Silicosis (a fibrosis of the lung caused by rock dust) was the feared disease of this type of employment. If an x-ray came back positive the employee was fired the same day and could never be hired by another mine.

“When they get sick and can’t work, we throw them in the dump heap.”

An agent for the employer was quoted as saying, “When they get sick and can’t work, we throw them in the dump heap.”

Mutt refused to go to a doctor until it was too late. He died at the age of 40 in 1952, just one year after his son became a Major League player.

Mantle’s father never lived to see his tremendous success as one of the best baseball players of all time.

The mine was closed in 1970. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed this job site as the most toxic waste site Continue reading

The NFL’s surprising occupational hazard: obesity that kills, PART 2

Today more then 350 NFL linemen weigh over 300 pounds.

Earlier this week we shared a post about a surprisingly common illness affecting retired NFL players: chronic obesity.

In 1990, less than 70 players in the NFL weighed more than 300 pounds. Today there are more than 350 who weigh that much. All this weight adds up to
higher death rates for retired NFL linemen than for the general public.

Retired NFL players are more likely to have medical conditions that go along with obesity like sleep apnea, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, and high insulin and cholesterol levels. Put these together and the risk of deadly illnesses like heart disease, stroke and diabetes is also much higher.
So retired players are increasingly turning Continue reading

The NFL’s surprising occupational hazard: obesity that kills

Today's NFL linemen have to be bigger than ever.

Most people know that football is dangerous. We see reports of NFL players with every kind of gruesome injury imaginable. Even suicidal depression, it turns out, is a potential hazard of playing football. Of course playing in the NFL is both rewarding and risky.

There is one common health problem among NFL players, however, that usually goes unmentioned. We thought it was a fitting topic for our workers’ law blog because NFL linemen must embrace this condition in order to stay in peak performance. It’s called chronic obesity.

These days, to be an NFL lineman, you not only have to be fast and strong, you also have to be fat. Continue reading