Larry Tripplett was a professional football player who played defensive tackle for the Indianapolis Colts from 2002 to 2006, then played for the Buffalo Bills from 2006 to 2008, and played briefly for the Seattle Seahawks in 2008. In his six-year career, Triplett played approximately 110 games of professional football, but only played two games in California.
In 2009, Tripplett filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, alleging injury to multiple body parts throughout the course of his National Football League (NFL) career. Each of the defendant football teams and insurers denied his claim. Both Buffalo and Seattle disputed California jurisdiction. Trial proceeded on the jurisdiction issue.
At that trial, Tripplett testified about his hiring by Indianapolis, explaining that his agent David Dunn, who was located in Newport Beach, negotiated all of his contracts. Tripplett asserted he was living in Los Angeles when he signed his Indianapolis contract in his agent’s Newport Beach office. At the end of Tripplett’s cross-examination, he moved to “‘elect against the Indianapolis Colts. Since jurisdiction was not contested by the Colts even prior to this trial, over the objection of the Indianapolis Colts, the Court allowed the election.’”
The matter proceeded to a further trial against Indianapolis. However, after Tripplett was provided with a copy of that agreement, showing he and his agent, Joby Branion, had signed separate copies of the signature page, he acknowledged “I honestly don’t remember” where he signed the agreement. Tripplett also testified that although he “put a lot of trust in [his] agent” to negotiate his employment agreements, and “whatever he advised me to do, that’s what I signed,” it was Tripplett himself who “had the final say.”
The WCJ found that the WCAB had jurisdiction over the claim. The WCAB granted the petition for reconsideration and reversed the WCJ’s finding of jurisdiction based on Tripplett’s hiring in California. The Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal in the unpublished case of Tripplett v. WCAB.
Tripplett relies on Labor Code section 3600.5(a), which specifies that “[i]f an employee who has been hired or is regularly [employed] in the state receives personal injury . . . arising out of . . . [such] employment outside of this state, he . . . shall be entitled to compensation according to the law of this state,” and 5305, which specifies the WCAB has “jurisdiction over all controversies arising out of injuries suffered outside the territorial limits of the state in those cases where . . . the contract of hire was made in this state.”
But when courts have grappled with the issue of determining the location at which an injured employee was hired for purposes of workers compensation law, they have done so by applying traditional principles of contract formation.
Here, Tripplett’s agent’s negotiation of terms to be included in a written employment contract was not sufficient to bind Tripplett to anything. And because those negotiations were the only contract-related activity that took place in California, there is no basis to conclude the contract was formed in this state.