Most people don’t think a pro athlete needs workers compensation. The image of an injured roofer or factory worker is more common. Sure, athletes get hurt playing sports all the time. The question is whether they are entitled to medical and financial benefits that are awarded by the state.
Workers compensation laws are already complex. The law becomes even more nuanced when a workers comp claim concerns an on-the-job sport’s injury.
The stars are taken care of. When an athlete earning seven or eight figures a year gets injured, they don’t have to worry. They continue to get paid. Maybe even more significantly, they receive top-notch medical care.
Like everything, pro sports has a hierarchy. How a workers compensation claim is handled affects those at the bottom far more than those at the top. Minor league baseball stars can earn less than cashiers. A player on an NFL practice squad gets around $7,000 a week. That’s a decent amount of scratch –– unless they suffer a career-ending injury their first month.
Workers compensation has two main components. The first deals with income. It covers wages that are lost when an employee is harmed while performing a job-related function. If a player is awarded benefits, they receive the difference between their pre and post-injury wages. So, a pro athlete with guaranteed earnings probably wouldn’t qualify. For lower-earning players, it isn’t a windfall either. Although it varies from state to state, the payment is usually capped at around $1,000 a week. Often, the people making claims are retired or otherwise no longer on a team’s payroll.
The other component of workers compensation focuses on medical benefits. This can include everything from the cost of surgery to home-health care. Here again, a top athlete wouldn’t need this as pro players participate in platinum insurance plans –– and team owners shell out millions every year to make sure they are well taken care of.
Again, it’s the lower-earning player, often with a fairly short pro career who needs the help. In many cases, the medical benefits are the primary reason an athlete wants workers compensation.
Most injuries are obvious; a busted knee, torn rotator cuff, or some sort of on-the-field trauma is clear to doctors and fans alike. However, some injuries take time to reveal themselves. Often, players keep playing unaware of the extent of the damage.
Concussions have been a heavily discussed topic over the last decade. Players who suffered multiple head injuries in their twenties often didn’t feel the full effects until they were in their forties or fifties. Some suffered dementia or psychological issues. As part of a settlement with the NFL, many received medical care along with financial compensation.
The great majority of injured athletes aren’t part of a settlement. They have to go it alone. Unfortunately, many states have laws disqualifying most claims by pro athletes. California won’t allow pros to file in the state if they have no work history there. Both Massachusetts and Florida don’t consider them employees –– which means they can’t file a claim. In Illinois, benefits end for players at age 35.
That’s just one reason pro athletes hoping to win a claim should hire someone who has dealt with this speciality before –– like the experienced lawyers at a workers compensation law firm in Virginia. One strategy is to file a claim where the injury occurred rather than where the player’s team is based. Attorneys also have to overcome prejudice for their profession, as some judges may have a preconceived notion and assume they don’t need help. The key is to file as soon as possible –– since the statute of limitations can sideline a claim that comes in after the buzzer.