Amid Protests, New California Workers Comp Bill Gets Boost
The controversial workers comp reform bill before California lawmakers received a thumbs-up on Thursday, April 24th.
The new bill, AB 1309, proposes to change workers comp in California so retired, out-of-state professional athletes cannot file for workers comp simply because they have played one or two games in California.
The bill is backed by 16 California teams, including the Lakers and the Dodgers, as well as several California lawmakers and insurance companies. The Assembly Insurance Committee passed the bill unanimously, 11-0, despite protests from former professional athletes, who spoke outside of the state house in mid-April, as well as union leaders.
The measure will now head to the full assembly for debate and vote.
“Why should California be the workers’ compensation forum for every professional athlete in America?” asked committee Chairman Henry T. Perea (D-Fresno), the bill’s author.
The current “loop-hole” in California workers comp law allows retired professional athletes to file in the state – regardless of where they reside or which team they played for – to file for workers comp benefits based on “cumulative trauma” that may have occurred while playing a handful of games in California.
Consequently, the state has become a magnet for expensive and time-consuming workers comp claims from former athletes. Proponents of the new bill say that these athletes receive coverage and compensation from the NFL and other leagues, and can also file for workers comp in their teams’ home states. The claims in California double-pay the athletes, raise insurance rates for workers in California, and tie up the workers comp courts unfairly, which delays claims for residents of the state.
Opponents of the bill say that the NFL does not compensate former players fairly for cumulative injuries, and California is the only recourse for expensive, life-long physical problems. Labor unions also fear that the new bill will set a dangerous precedent – while it currently targets well-paid and often-famous professional athletes, it could extend to other workers who travel into the state, including truck drivers or traveling salespeople.
“There is a slippery slope of who is going to be next,” said Angie Wei, legislative director for the California Labor Federation.
“California is a last resort for a lot of these guys because they’ve already been cut off in the other states,” said Mel Owens, a former Los Angeles Rams linebacker who is now a compensation lawyer.
Workers compensation does not involve California tax payers in any way. Employers, including the NFL, pay workers comp insurance to the state, which is then drawn on to pay out claims later.
Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto), however, does not believe richer workers should benefit from a flawed system that penalizes local employers.
“I don’t think California should be the catch-all for deficiencies in other states,” she said. “That’s neither wise nor affordable.”
“The actual answer to this problem is not a state-by-state decision,” suggested Frank Neuhauser, executive director of the Center for the Study of Social Insurance at UC Berkeley. “The leagues should negotiate with the players associations to resolve how to handle these cases in the future…. The players need coverage for these diseases that they got playing for teams that made billions of dollars.”
The Strom Law Firm Understands Worker’s Comp Legislation
The workers comp lawyers at The Strom Law Firm, LLC proudly seek justice on behalf of employees injured or killed on the job who work for private companies, as well as employees working for local county, city, and state government. We are licensed to practice throughout South Carolina, as well as Georgia and New York. If you are confused about worker’s comp laws, or have had your worker’s comp claim denied, contact us. We offer free consultations to discuss the facts of your case. 803.252.4800.