Back in early 2014 California passed AB 1309 limiting most professional athletes from filing workers’ comp claims within the state.
The fallout was immediate: players from all over the US filed more than 1,000 injury claims, hoping to get treatment and compensation before the September, 2015 deadline. In the first two weeks of September, current and retired players filed 569 claims against NFL franchises, 283 claims against Major League Baseball clubs, 113 against National Hockey League teams and 79 against NBA squads, a Los Angeles Times analysis of state workers’ compensation data found.
And after the September 2015 California deadline, the NFL players needed to find a new venue for their litigation. It may be the state of Florida.
The Miami Harold reports that this month Tony Gaiter along with 141 other former NFL players filed a federal lawsuit in Fort Lauderdale against the league, seeking workers’ compensation benefits for CTE (traumatic brain injury) symptoms. The players contend CTE is an occupational hazard of playing football and should be covered under workers’ compensation.
“Right now, these players are not getting any compensation for their injuries,” said Tim Howard, the attorney representing the group. “There is no reason CTE shouldn’t fall under workers’ compensation.”
The lawsuit names nearly 40 former NFL players, including many who have ties to South Florida. Among the group of plaintiffs listed in the suit: Former Detroit Lions player Sedrick Irvin; former Dallas Cowboys player Kevin Harris; former Washington Redskins player Lawrence Jones; former Tampa Bay Buccaneers player Shevin Smith; and former New England Patriots player Santonio Thomas.
The suit could affect the more than 19,000 retired NFL players who don’t qualify for benefits under the existing settlement.
CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, is allegedly caused by repeated brain trauma and can lead to memory loss, depression and dementia. The disease can only be diagnosed after someone has died. Autopsies have linked CTE and former NFL players.
Howard maintains that scientific developments have demonstrated that CTE can be diagnosed when someone is alive and begins to show symptoms.
In April 2015, a federal court approved a $1 billion settlement between the NFL and the players, who accused the league of not warning players and hiding the damage of brain injury. Earlier this year, a handful of players rejected the settlement and filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, contending that some future cases would not be compensated.
The NFL could not be reached for comment.
Howard said the settlement does not compensate players living with CTE or the families of players who died from CTE after July 2014. “This is a way for the players to get justice,” Howard said.
And these claims could not come at a worse time for Florida. On Sept. 27, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation issued an order that will raise workers compensation rates by 14.5 percent. The hike applies to new and renewing policies, effective Dec. 1.
This change came in response to a recent judgment regarding personal injury trial lawyers and the fees they charge. Under current state law, attorneys are paid 20 percent for the first $5,000 and 15 percent of the next $5,000 of any benefits they help secure. But in April, the state Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to cap attorney fees.