Guess Who’s Cashing In On Workers’ Comp?

If you said wealthy professional athletes, you are correct.

This story from the LA Times about pro athletes receiving workers’ compensation settlements caught my eye over the weekend. As stated in the article, “Over the last three decades, California’s workers’ compensation system has awarded millions of dollars in benefits for job-related injuries to thousands of professional athletes.” A case in point:


In his seven-year career with the Denver Broncos, running back Terrell Davis, a former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, dazzled fans with his speed and elusiveness.

At the end of his rookie year in 1995, he signed a $6.8-million, five-year contract. Off the field he endorsed Campbell’s soup. And when he hung up his cleats, he reported for the National Football League Network and appeared in movies and TV shows.

So it may surprise Californians to find out that in 2011, Davis got a $199,000 injury settlement from a California workers’ compensation court for injuries related to football. This came despite the fact Davis was employed by a Colorado team and played just nine times in California during an 88-game career, according to the NFL.

Davis was compensated for the lifelong effects of multiple injuries to the head, arms, trunk, legs and general body, according to California workers’ compensation records.

A few other high profile pro athletes who were awarded large settlements include Moses Malone (3-time NBA MVP): $155,000; and Michael Irvin (Hall of Fame NFL wide receiver): $249,000.

To be sure, the plight of athletes who suffer multiple injuries (especially head trauma) over the course of their careers is a serious issue (the case of John Mackey, for example) and should not be dismissed. However, these are not your average employees who are called in to do inventory on their job and have a heavy box fall on them, or who slip and break a bone because another careless employee spilled something in the break room. Rather, these are professional athletes who enter their profession in full knowledsge of all the risks, including the potential for serious injury, in their pursuit of the reward of a multi-million dollar payday.

To be clear workers’ compensation is funded by employers, so the taxpayers are not actually on the hook for these payments, but state workers’ compensation systems are not the place for such settlements. Not only do they bog down the system with additional claims and burdern their monetary resources, someone should not be able to shop his or her case from state to state in order to obtain the most favorable ruling. Rather, since the majority of professional athletes are unionized, these settlements (or some other injury-related compensation) should be part of the collective bargaining agreement between the respective professional leagues and players associations.

Unfortunately, this is just another example of how inefficient, costly and dysfunctional things become when the government iss involved.

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