Ex-Pro Athletes Flock to California for Workers’ Comp, Even if They Rarely Played in State

Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Former Detroit Lion Zack Follett suffered a neck injury in 2010 and retired the next year at age 24.


California is more than just an attractive venue for professional athletes to establish careers and ply their trade. It is also a lucrative and convenient place to file worker’s compensation claims after that career is over, even if they’ve only spent a small amount of time in the state.

Athletes have collected millions of dollars from workers’ compensation claims in California, although the majority of them did not play for franchises in the state, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times. California is a particularly attractive state to file a claim because it is one of the few that allows compensation for the cumulative effect of injuries.

The Cohen Law Firm, which represents athletes in worker comp cases, says on its website that it is not unusual for an ex-jock to receive $50,000-$250,000 in a tax-free award, depending on the sport. “Typically, an injured athlete is eligible to receive an award of permanent disability. In addition, an athlete may receive a life pension as well as future medical care.”   

The Times cited a report by “major professional sports leagues” that 4,500 athletes have successfully claimed $747 million in California since the 1980s. The compensation, which does not come directly from California taxpayers, is paid out of an employer-funded program. While not a direct charge to Californians, the cases can contribute to clogged court calendars and ultimately lead to higher insurance bills for teams, leagues and their private insurers. 

The rush to California has been fueled by judicial decisions over the years that recognize an ex-athlete’s right to file a claim in California even if he played just a limited amount of time in the state. The Times mentions the case of Terrell Davis, who only played nine games in California over a seven-year career, but collected $199,000 in 2011 for a claim filed in the state. The story also alludes to a hypothetical player who might have spent a few weeks in a California training camp once in his career collecting worker’s comp via the state.

Although there is a one-year statute of limitations on filing a claim after suffering an injury, many athletes don’t become aware of an injury’s effects until years later (or claim they don’t) and are eligible to file years after their careers end. It is not unusual for athletes, especially in high-impact sports like football, to suffer through significant, debilitating conditions after their careers are over.  

Legislation was introduced in the state Assembly Monday that would limit or outright prohibit these incidental Californians from making benefit claims in the state. The bill, expected to be hotly contested, bars the filing of claims for cumulative trauma unless a player worked at least 90 days in California.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Athletes Cash in on California’s Workers’ Comp (by Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times)

Bill Would Bar Some Athletes from California Workers’ Comp Claims (by Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times)

Professional Athlete Workers’ Compensation (The Cohen Law Firm)

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