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Injured NFL Player’s Case Helping Shape Maryland Work Comp Laws

A years-old workers’ compensation case recently decided by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals will likely help redefine the way the state’s courts look at jurisdictional issues when examining workers’ comp claims involving injured employees that perform work in more than one state. The case involves former Washington Redskins punter Thomas Tupa, Jr. and an injury he received while warming up prior to a preseason football game in August of 2005. Mr. Tupa’s case was unique not only in that involved a professional athlete but also in that Mr. Tupa’s contract with the Redskins specifically named the preferred jurisdiction for workers’ compensation claims as Virginia.

Forum Selection Clauses As Affecting Work Comp Claims

Mr. Tupa’s contract with the Redskins – signed in 2004 for a four-year term of employment – specifically stated that, in spite of the fact that the team itself was headquartered in Maryland and their regular and preseason games are played at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, Virginia’s workers’ compensation laws should apply to any claims brought against the team. In spite of that provision, Mr. Tupa initially sought Maryland worker’s comp benefits after his disabling injury.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals performed an in-depth analysis of the possible ramifications of allowing the forum selection clause present in the employment contract to govern Mr. Tupa’s claim for temporary partial disability benefits. The Court found that the application of Virginia’s work comp laws in this particular instance would violate Maryland’s liberal public policy – as stated in section 9-104 of the Maryland Code of Labor and Employment – of not allowing employers to contract away the rights granted to them by the law.

How Will This Decision Affect Jurisdictional Questions in the Future?

The Court – before deciding that Maryland was the proper jurisdiction to handle Mr. Tupa’s work comp claim – analyzed the particular facts of this case, including the fact that the primary purpose of Mr. Tupa’s employment was to fulfill his role as a professional football player at football games (the majority of which took place in Maryland) notwithstanding the facts that the team practiced out of state and traveled to other football stadiums throughout the season and that his employment contract was actually signed in Virginia.

That type of analysis will be relevant in virtually any multi-jurisdictional workers’ comp claim that comes before the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission or the state’s courts – answers to jurisdictional questions can only be found after a fact-specific analysis has been performed to weigh the type of connections a claimant has with the state, what type of work is involved, how much of it is performed in the state, and whether the application of another state’s laws would be in violation of Maryland’s policies, laws, rules or regulations.

The Maryland Court of Appeals has granted certiorari so there will be an additional court opinion in this case in the future.

If you or a loved one has been injured on the job in Maryland – or in another state while working for a Maryland-based employer – and has questions about seeking workers’ comp disability benefits, seek the advice of a skilled workers’ compensation attorney in your area to learn more about your legal rights and options.

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