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Athletes and workers' comp: California changes its law

Workers' compensation systems operate at the state level. A partial federal government shutdown certainly provides a suitable occasion for a reminder of this.

A state-based system means that Maryland has its own system for distributing compensation to workers injured on the job. Other states have their own systems as well.

In this post, let's look at how budget problems and political dynamics in a given state can influence specific aspects of the state's workers' compensation system.

More specifically, we will discuss the new law in California this week limiting workers' compensation claims by out-of-state professional athletes who were injured in California.

The bill was the product of an intensive lobbying campaign by major sports leagues, particularly the National Football League (NFL). The NFL recently settled a lawsuit brought by former players who suffered serious head injuries while playing in the league.

That suit, however, was in some ways the tip of a head-injury iceberg. Every day, evidence mounts about the serious health consequences of concussions and other serious head injuries.And in the last seven years, more than 3,400 people who were injured playing in the NFL have filed for workers' comp in California, citing brain injuries or other neurological disorders.

Of course, football isn't the only sport where head injuries can occur. Major league baseball was also a strong supporter of the California workers' comp limitation. So were other pro sports leagues, as well as insurance companies who provide workers' compensation insurance to employers.

For our purposes, the significance of California's law is not merely that a Baltimore Ravens player who was injured in California will be prevented from seeking workers' compensation there. The point is that workers' comp laws vary by state. And their terms and conditions can sometimes reflect political pressures.

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

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