Professional Athlete Claims in California

Although the majority of states recognize professional athletes as workers under the Worker’s Compensation statutes, not all states recognize the same type of workers’ compensation claims.  Under a cumulative trauma claim, the worker claims to suffer chronic injuries due to frequent and repetitive activities or a repeated injury.  An important distinction between a specific and cumulative trauma injury is when the clock for the Statue of Limitations begins to run.  Generally, for a specific injury claim, the Statue of Limitations begins on the date of injury.  For cumulative trauma claims, the clock begins when the worker is diagnosed.  Hence, cumulative trauma claims are particularly attractive to professional athletes because their injuries may not manifest until after their career.  Only a handful of states recognize cumulative trauma claims, California being one of them.

More than two thirds of all cumulative trauma claims filed by athletes in California are from out-of-state.  On average, 34 new claims are filed each month and the California Insurance Guarantee Association has paid nearly $42 million in claims to professional athletes since 2002.  The average cost to settle an NFL player’s workers’ compensation claim is over $200,000.  The cost, coupled with the high volume of claims (4,500 filed against NFL teams in California since 2006) has resulted in an estimated $1,000,000,000 expense for NFL teams.  (Workers’ Compensation and The Professional Athlete, 12/29/13.)

California Assembly Bill 1309 enacted in 2013 provides some relief to professional sports teams by limiting the eligibility of who can file a cumulative trauma claim in California.  Generally, only those players that spend “more than 20% of their professional time in California or worked for a California-based team for part of their professional or semi professional career” can file a cumulative trauma claim in California.  However this only applies to claims filed after September 15, 2013.  The purpose of the bill was to correct abuses in the system.

Workers’ compensation claims for professional athletes are being filed with greater frequency and creativity, the trend of which is expected to continue.