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New California law limits work comp claims by pro athletes

When you sit down to watch your favorite sports team here in Chicago, there is a very good chance that the last thing you are thinking about is the ability of the players to file a workers' compensation claim in the event they are injured on the field, diamond, rink or court.

As it turns out, this exact issue has been on the minds of many former athletes and officials with the professional sports leagues over the last 18 months, as the two sides have been locked in an intense battle regarding legislation in the state of California that would severely curtail the former's ability to seek work comp benefits there.

Why California?

Over the years, thousands of former athletes have sought payment from California's somewhat unique work comp system. That's because the statute of limitations for filing a work comp in that state is considerably longer than most other states, and injured workers are allowed to file for "cumulative trauma" (i.e., injuries sustained over time) so long as they can prove that at some point they performed some type of work in California.

To illustrate just how much California has become a favorite venue, consider that statistics show that over two-thirds of the cumulative trauma claims filed there since 2006 have been filed by out-of-state athletes.

In an attempt to limit this practice, California lawmakers passed recently passed Assembly Bill 1309, which was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown without comment earlier this week.

"Our workers' compensation system will no longer be unfairly targeted by out-of-state professional athletes," said Rep. Henry Perea (D-Fresno), the sponsor of the bill.

AB 1309 dictates that professional football, hockey, baseball, basketball and soccer players (including those in the minor leagues) can only file work comp claims in the state if they have played on a California-based franchise for two full seasons. Furthermore, even if the professional athlete satisfies this two-season requirement, he or she still cannot file a work comp claim if they spent at least seven seasons playing for a franchise outside the state.

The legislation, which is retroactive to September 15, has understandably created a significant degree of anger among athletes, and employee advocates who claim it will do nothing but limit the ability of players to secure help in the future when they will need it most.

"It's a sellout to the billionaire owners," said one workers' compensation attorney. "Players are suffering these terrible injuries, especially the older ones. They are going to be without a remedy."

What are your thoughts on this story? Will the legislation cause more harm than good?

Source: The Los Angeles Times, "California limits workers' comp sports injury claims," Ken Bensinger and Marc Lifsher, October 8, 2013

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