In the news: California workers’ compensation benefits for professional athletes


By Stephen M. Pfeiffer, PhD

Recent headlines have been awash with debate concerning a loophole in the worker’s comp system permitting professional athletes from out of state to file for

California workers’ compensation benefits

According to a piece for the


, NFL players seeking coverage for work-related injuries have been flocking to California to file claims. Why? Due to a new NFL collective bargaining agreement coupled with a statewide provision allowing for cumulative trauma claims, players can now seek benefits in California as long as they have played (or at least been scheduled to play) an in-state game during the course of their careers.

Given the fact that such claims are generally more lucrative and easier to win in California, critics worry that this trend will result in exorbitant payouts to NFL players at the employers’ and, to some extent, taxpayers’ expense. However, amidst the popular uproar, it is important to distinguish these concerns from those related to fraudulent workers’ comp claims. Those in the industry understand that current and retired NFL players alike should receive the care they need for their work-related injuries, especially given the growing awareness among the medical community about head trauma and related mental health disorders. But for one state to shoulder the burden of providing that care hurts taxpayers and employers alike, while also leaving the door open for worrying developments in worker’s compensation laws.

As noted in a report for

, “the notion that you can apply one state’s law to a particular situation because you happened to ‘be there once’ is ridiculous.” Here in California, where we are already struggling to provide adequate welfare benefits and workers’ compensation for locally employed workers, the task of covering a host of injured athletes from other states would put extensive strain on our resources. It is estimated that nearly $1 billion has already been paid from our California Workers’ Comp system to these out-of-state athletes. While it is critical to support individuals with work-related injuries, California should not bear the full brunt of a task that rightly belongs to the nation at large – and specifically, to the employers (in this case, team owners) who rightfully employed the athletes in question.

To learn more about California workers’ compensation laws, treatment for mental health disorders and other issues related to establishing a more fair and equitable work comp system, peruse my archived


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