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A.B. 1301 was introduced this week in the California Assembly by Assembly Insurance Committee Chairman Henry Perea (D-Fresno). If passed into law, it would limit the avalanche of workers compensation claims filed by out of state professional athletes,

This bill would provide that an employee hired outside of this state, his or her dependents, and his or her employer shall be exempt from this state’s workers’ compensation laws if the employee is a professional athlete, defined, for purposes of these provisions, to include an athlete who is employed at the minor or major league level in the sport of baseball, basketball, football, hockey, or soccer, and that professional athlete is temporarily within this state doing work for his or her employer. Perea’s bill would not apply to members of other professions whose work takes them from state to state, such as horse racing jockeys, truck drivers and salesmen.

This bill would deem a professional athlete to be temporarily within the state doing work for his or her employer if, during the 365 days immediately preceding either the professional athlete’s date of injury, or, in the case of an occupational disease or cumulative injury claim, the professional athlete’s last date of injurious exposure while employed anywhere as a professional athlete, the professional athlete performs less than 90 total days of required services within the state under the direction and control of the employer.

The bill would provide that if the employee is a professional athlete, the date of injury in cases of occupational diseases or cumulative injuries is the date of the employee’s last injurious exposure while employed anywhere as a professional athlete, or the date of diagnosis, as defined, by a licensed physician, whichever occurs later.

The bill would also provide that an employer of a professional athlete that is subject to California’s workers’ compensation laws is not liable for occupational disease or cumulative injury if at the time application for benefits is made the professional athlete performed his or her last year of work in an occupation that exposed him or her to the occupational disease or cumulative injury as an employee of one or more other employers that are exempt from California’s workers’ compensation laws or pursuant to the above provisions or any other law. The bill would provide that these changes apply to all pending claims for benefits, as specified.

The language of A.B. 1301 does not indicate if these provision are retroactive to claims that have already been filed. California is the only state that makes it relatively easy for long-retired players to claim cumulative trauma injuries. About 4,500 out-of-state players have won judgments or settlements since the early 1980s, according to a study commissioned by the professional sports leagues.

The filing of this bill will commence the arduous process of hearings, debates and amendments to the bill language before there will be any new law on this topic. The proposal is expected to be one of the most hotly debated issues of the legislative session, with team owners lining up against the players’ unions and their labor allies. It is likely that there will be a bitter debate in the weeks and months that follow.

Regardless of whether they play for out-of-state teams, said Angie Wei, legislative director of the California Labor Federation, “these players are workers and they deserve to have access to their benefits. They work for short durations of time at an intense level and get injured.”