NFL and Falcons Sue Former Players Over Workers’ Comp

The National Football League and the Atlanta Falcons are suing nine former Falcons players to force them to litigate workers’ compensation cases in Georgia rather than in California, where dozens of current and former NFL players have sought compensation for injuries sustained from playing football.

The eight-page suit, filed by King & Spalding attorneys Darrick L. McDuffie and S. Stewart Haskins II on behalf of the Falcons and the NFL Management Council, asks U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Thrash Jr. to enforce what the suit called a binding arbitration ruling issued last month in New York.

That ruling by arbitrator Michael Beck ordered the nine former Falcons to halt their efforts to collect workers’ compensation benefits in California for injuries stemming from their careers with the Falcons.

When the suit was filed March 5, the players’ claims were pending before the workers’ compensation board in California, the complaint alleges.

The suit appears to be part of a broader fight between the league and the players over how and whether current and former players should be compensated for injuries incurred on the playing field.

The former Falcons players include Roderick Coleman, Wilrey Fontenot, Tony Gilbert, Kindal Moorehead, Stanley Pritchett, Karon Riley, Brett Romberg, Jason Webster and Dez White.

Professional football players injured while playing are generally entitled to workers’ compensation benefits while they are out of work; the benefits include pay for medical expenses arising from that injury, according to the NFL Players Association website.

“This is important since NFL clubs will not pay medical expenses after a player leaves the game unless the player files a workers’ compensation claim,” the website states.

The Atlanta suit is one of a number of federal suits the NFL and professional football teams are filing against hundreds of former football players who have lodged workers’ compensation claims in California, even when the teams for which they played are based elsewhere.

According to a 2010 New York Times investigation, California is the only state where professional athletes who have played as little as a single game in the state may file workers’ compensation claims for long-term injuries they may have sustained years earlier.

According the Times report, California law also bars employees from signing away certain workers’ rights and their unions from bargaining them away. Those policies have prompted the players association to argue that player contracts requiring them to file workers’ compensation claims in their teams’ home states may be unenforceable.

Football players from the Cincinnati Bengals, the Denver Broncos, the Tennessee Titans, the Miami Dolphins, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Chicago Bears, the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons have filed workers’ compensation claims in California, according to national news reports.

California’s liberally construed workers’ compensation laws have been bolstered by the NFL’s current collective bargaining agreement with the players association. That agreement—which ended last year’s lockout—included a provision that allows players to file workers’ compensation claims in states where their teams aren’t based, according to the website Business Insurance.