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Applicant played professional football for four years with the Arizona Cardinals (Cardinals) from 1999 to June 24, 2003. The Cardinals are a National Football League (NFL) team based in Arizona, where the players regularly train and practice for games. During the four years applicant was employed by the Cardinals, the team played a total of 80 games; 40 of them in Arizona and the remainder in 16 other states, including 7 games in California.

In the summer of 2010 he heard from another former NFL player, Michael Jameson, that he could file a workers’ compensation claim of cumulative industrial injury in California and he filed an Application for Adjudication of Claim, alleging that he incurred industrial injury to multiple body parts as a result of “cumulative injury” incurred while playing and practicing for the Cardinals during the four year period ending in 2003.

The Cardinals contend that the California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) should decline to hear applicant’s workers’ compensation claim because each of the three employment contracts he signed with the Cardinals contains an identical forum selection clause that said “This Contract has been entered into in the State of Arizona and in no other state, and the parties acknowledge that the Player’s principal place of employment shall be within the State of Arizona and in no other state. Claims for workers’ compensation shall be filed with the Industrial Commission of Arizona, and the parties agree that they shall be subject to the workers’ compensation laws of the State of Arizona and of no other state.”

The WCJ found that the WCAB “has jurisdiction over applicant’s claim,” but that “Applicant’s contacts with California are not sufficient to warrant exercising the Board’s jurisdiction in light of applicant’s contractual agreement with his employer to file his workers’ compensation claims in Arizona.” Based upon those findings the WCJ further ordered that applicant “take nothing” on his claim for California workers’ compensation benefits, which is tantamount to dismissal of the claim. The WCAB affirmed the decision in the En Banc decision of Dennis McKinley v Arizona Cardinals: The Travelers Indemnity Company.

Under applicant’s theory that each and every game in which he played contributed to the injurious exposure that caused his claimed cumulative injury, at least 16 other states besides California could have concurrent jurisdiction over the claim for workers’ compensation. In that there are 16 other states that could potentially exercise jurisdiction over applicant’s cumulative injury claim for workers’ compensation, the WCAB carefully considered whether that claim is properly adjudicated in California. The answer to that question also implicates the exclusive remedy aspect of workers’ compensation that is part of California law and the similar laws of most states. In view of this limited connection with California, and in light of the Arizona forum that applicant and the Cardinals reasonably identified in their employment contracts, the WCAB decline to exercise jurisdiction over his claim for workers’ compensation.

Applicant’s primary connection during his four years of employment by the Cardinals was with the State of Arizona. The Cardinals’ home base is in Arizona and that is where the team is headquartered. Applicant regularly trained and practiced at the team’s facility in Tempe, Arizona, and he spent the substantial majority of his work time in that state. By contrast, applicant was not a resident of California when he contracted to play football for the Cardinals and his contracts of employment were made in Arizona. The majority of applicant’s work duties were performed in Arizona where he regularly practiced and where the Cardinals played 40 of their 80 games during the period of his employment. In addition, 33 of the other 40 games were played in states other than California. In short, there was limited connection with California with regard to applicant’s employment by the Cardinals and his claimed cumulative injury. In the view, of the WCAB, that limited connection is insufficient for the WCAB to exercise jurisdiction over his claim for workers’ compensation in derogation of the Arizona forum he and the Cardinals reasonably identified in their employment contracts as the place where any claim for workers’ compensation would be filed.

Applicant argues that because he paid California income tax for games that were played in the state he has a due process right to have his workers’ compensation claim adjudicated by the WCAB. However no authority holds that payment of state income tax requires the WCAB to adjudicate an employee’s claim for workers’ compensation, and tax law does not control how California’s system of workers’ compensation is administered, given the very different purposes of those laws.

With respect to public policy issues raised by the applicant, the WCAB concluded “In the special circumstances of this case, we conclude that California has a stronger public policy interest in following the parties’ forum selection clause than it does in exercising jurisdiction over applicant’s claim for workers’ compensation.”

The WCAB concluded “our concern about court congestion and the overburdening of already strained judicial resources is not based upon abstract speculation. The NFL consists of 32 teams playing in 23 states and occasionally in foreign countries. Each club is allowed a maximum of 53 players on their roster. Because three NFL teams are domiciled in California, players from all of the 29 other teams could potentially claim that they incurred some portion of a cumulative industrial injury in California merely because they played one or more games in the state. In fact, numerous claims have been filed in California by professional football players and other professional athletes, and those claims impose a substantial burden on the WCAB’s limited resources.”