There are three National Football League teams in the state of California, and at a glance they seem to have a terrible safety record – worst in the league. Over 3,700 NFL players have filed workers' compensation claims in that state. I'm amazed the 49'ers made the playoffs this year. Their injured list must fill an entire section of the stadium.
But wait – there is a bit more to the story. 114 of those players are Cincinnati Bengals. 3 are Chicago Bears, eight played for the New Orleans Saints – and the list goes on. They have had mixed results in California courts (the Bears players lost in arbitration, and are currently looking to have that decision vacated), but a new NFL collective bargaining agreement signed this past summer includes a provision allowing players to file worker’s compensation claims in states besides the state in which their team is based.
So, why California? (Pause for hysterical laughter from an all too wise industry)
First and foremost, since California accepts cumulative trauma claims, it is deemed easier to win, and the benefits are generally considered better than many other states. It seems a player only had to be sent to California once for a game – might not even matter if they actually played, and they are now theoretically able to submit a claim in the state.
Experts say it could cost the league millions if the players prevail. Those costs will be passed on of course, to the ticket buying public. Virtually all of these 3,700 claims are headed for a long and expensive court battle, clogging the judicial system in a financially strapped state that can't even afford to any longer pay welfare benefits through strip club ATM's.
I am not suggesting that both current and retired players should not be cared for if they are injured on the job. Many clearly are, and will need extensive assistance. More and more is being learned about previously unrecognized (or unacknowledged) head injuries, and the increased risks of dementia and other mental impairments for these players.
I AM suggesting, however, that the notion that you can apply one states law to a particular situation because you happened to “be there once” is ridiculous. The players have a very powerful union behind them, but I can't help but wonder, if they prevail, will this trend spread to other industries? The Chicago based manufacturer's rep who goes to a San Francisco conference? The New Mexico long haul trucker who merely passes through the state? If I experience cumulative trauma from repeatedly banging my head on the wall (it is in my job description – really….), can I file in California because I had meetings in Los Angeles last year?
Pack your bags, ladies and gentlemen. The second California gold rush may now be just beginning.