Unlike other workers, professional athletes have significant difficulty collecting workers’ compensation benefits for sports-related injuries. Professional athletes fall into a gray area and many have to fight to recover benefits. With numerous lawsuits pending, athletes who have suffered injuries should understand the legal options available to them.
The Importance of Workers’ Compensation
Professional athletes have short career spans. Football players can expect a career of just 3.5 years. Baseball players for just over 5.5 years. Hockey players just 5 years. Basketball players can expect a career of just under 5 years. During this time, an athlete’s body can suffer significant damage that can limit their earning capacity and reduce their quality of life throughout the rest of their lifetime.
Traumatic Brain Injuries & Professional Sports
Traumatic brain injuries are some of the most common injuries professional athletes suffer. Football, rugby, and hockey players, as well as boxers, are most at risk. These are followed by baseball, softball, soccer, and other athletes. Often, these injuries are the result of a series of concussions, contusions, and other events. These accumulate over time and can leave the athlete with diminished mental capacity and physical disabilities.
In 2016, former NFL players were awarded more than $1 billion following a lawsuit in which they established their TBI’s were the result of long-term injuries suffered while playing football. However, those players bowed out of the settlement and chose to file individual workers’ compensation claims.
Long-Term Effects of Sports Injuries
Sports injuries can leave players with partial or permanent disabilities. Loss of range of motion is a common complaint. This can occur following wear and tear on ligaments and joints, broken bones, or damage to muscle groups. Other common complaints include damaged nerves and diminished organ function. These injuries can negatively impact the athlete’s ability to continue working as an athlete. They can also limit their career opportunities after they hang up their gear.
Most universities do not consider student athlete’s as employees. Thus, they are not eligible to file claims under state workers’ compensation guidelines. This is a position that is currently being challenged around the country. These athletes argue that they are required to work year-round in order to maintain scholarships and their position at the university as an athlete. They also argue that they are required to maintain schedules dictated by the university. As such, it is their position that they are effectively employees of the university. These lawsuits are currently pending and their outcome will ripple through sports fields across the country.
All Eyes on California
The State of California has enacted laws that are intended to protect professional athletes and enable them to recover workers’ compensation for their sports-related injuries. These laws allow individuals to pursue workers’ compensation for partial or permanent disability, vocational rehabilitation, and in some cases, pension benefits.
California allows injured professional athletes to pursue compensation for specific injuries are for cumulative injuries. Thus, players can pursue claims resulting from a single injury such as a broken bone or fracture, as well as cumulative injuries such as concussions and contusions that result in TBI, etc. However, Nevada does not recognize cumulative injuries.
Different States, Different Rules
Professional athletes often travel across state lines for sports-related activities. This means that while an athlete may be employed by a team in Nevada and suffer an injury out of state. When this happens, the individual may need to file in the state where the injury occurred. This depends on whether the team is subject to a collective bargaining agreement, the nature of the contract, whether the player is an employee of a sports league, whether the player is covered by a league-maintained workers’ compensation policy, etc. Thus, it is imperative for injured athletes to discuss their options with a work injury attorney who can walk review their claim and determine the appropriate steps forward.
Documenting Sports-Related Injuries
Professional and semi-professional athletes should document sports-related injuries the same as any other employee would do. It is vital that athletes do not delay their pursuit of proper diagnosis and treatment when an injury is suspected. Not only will prompt and proper diagnosis improve recovery prospects, but it will also help establish that the injury is receiving treatment for was the result of engaging in sporting events.
Injured athletes should maintain records that include all doctor’s appointments, therapy sessions, medications, and surgical procedures. Individuals should also keep diaries that cover the impact of the injury on their physical and mental health, their relationships, as well as their ability to perform work-related tasks and engage in their favorite activities. Collectively, these records establish the true financial cost of the injury, the long-term physical/psychological impact, and the impact on earning capacity and quality of life.