Workers’ Compensation: Professional Athletes

By on December 15, 2014 - Comments off

Federal Insurance Company v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, (Second District, December 3, 2013) 221 Cal.App.4th 1116, 165 Cal.Rptr.3d 288, 78 Cal. Comp. Cases 1257, 13 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 13,054, 2013 Daily Journal D.A.R. 15,727

A retired professional basketball player for the Connecticut Sun filed a workers’ compensation claim against her employer and filed an application for adjudication of the claim with the California Division of Workers’ Compensation/Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. Although the claimant had played only one professional game in California out of 34 games played during 2003 and had suffered no specific injury in the state, she asserted that the single game had contributed to her cumulative injuries resulting in conditions in her shoulder, spine, hip, and ankle.

The Workers’ Compensation Judge awarded disability indemnity, but the Board rescinded the award and returned the matter to the judge with instructions to apportion the compensation between the present injury and past injuries for which the claimant had already received workers’ compensation benefits in Connecticut. The court of appeal granted the employer and the carrier’s petition for review, and reversed the WCAB, holding that California did not have a sufficient interest in the matter to apply its workers’ compensation law and to retain jurisdiction over the case:

A number of cases have held that where disability results from continuous cumulative traumas or exposures, the injury occurs not at the time of each distinct, fragmented exposure or trauma, but at the time the cumulative effect of the injuries has ripened into disability.” (citation) This is consistent with section 5412. Johnson continued to play the 2003 season after she played in Los Angeles. Thus, the facts suggest that the date of her disability is August 7, 2003, the date of her retirement. Importantly, her disability did not arise on July 20, 2003, when she played one game in Los Angeles. 

The effects of participating in one of 34 games do not amount to a cumulative injury warranting the invocation of California law. As the cases show, a state must have a legitimate interest in the injury. A single basketball game played by a professional player does not create a legitimate interest in injuries that cannot be traced factually to one game. The effect of the California game on the injury is at best de minimis.

The situs of the employment relationship is often the most realistic basis for the invocation of a state’s workers’ compensation law. (9 Larson, supra, § 143.04[1], p. 143–23.) The making of an employment contract within the state is usually deemed to create an employment relationship within that state. (Id. at § 143.04[2][b], p. 143–23.) The situs of the Johnson employment relationship is Connecticut or New Jersey, not California. Here, Johnson received a Connecticut workers’ compensation award, at least in part, for her injury as suggested by the Board in this case when the Board called for an apportionment of the award. The places of Johnson’s injuries, employment relationship, employment contract, and residence, all possible connections for the application of a state’s workers’ compensation law, do not have any relationship to California.

Accordingly, California does not have a sufficient relationship with Johnson’s injuries to make the application of California’s workers’ compensation law reasonable. And California law has no obligation to apply the workers’ compensation law of any other state. Thus, as a matter of due process, California does not have the power to entertain Johnson’s claim.

Related Articles