Category Archives: sports

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

Today’s post comes from guest author Tom Domer from The Domer Law Firm.

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. In 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 how egregious the employer’s behavior (i.e., removing the guard to increase machine speed, etc.), the Exclusive Remedy provision applies.

However, claims against third parties (someone other than the employer) are still available to workers if the injury was caused by the negligence of someone other than the employer. In the NFL claims, for example, a helmet manufacturer Riddell is also a named party. Since Riddell was not an employer, that tort suit against the third party should be able to proceed despite the exclusive remedy of worker’s compensation. Most States, like Wisconsin, have a formula for paying back worker’s compensation if the employee succeeds in recovering against the third party.

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Pro Athletes Need Worker’s Compensation Too

Today’s post comes from guest author Tom Domer from The Domer Law Firm. Just as described by Mr. Domer in the following article, Washington State sports players are covered under the same workers’ compensation laws that govern the rest of the Washington work force. Causey Law Firm has represented several professional athletes with memorable names, which is fun until it comes time to explain that their ratings of permanent impairment are based on a comparison with a normal individual’s average level of performance – strength, range of motion, etc.. – not a comparison with their own super-standard levels. Add to that the notion that the permanent impairment award dollar values are the same for every worker in the State and final settlements do not take into account lost wage earning capacity in Washington and what is left over is a frowning face on the sidelines.

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.