Just months after California politicians credited themselves with "reforming" workers' compensation, they're back again with Assembly Bill 1309, which aims to stop some professional athletes from receiving workers' compensation benefits in California.
Workers' compensation for NFL superstars? For playing a game for boatloads of money? Perhaps some people will have such a knee-jerk reaction. But the average NFL player's career lasts just over three years and not every player makes millions, as is the perception. Most grind it out in semi-pro leagues like the Area Football League or the United Football League where salaries rarely exceed six figures.
Maybe others feel that football players know the risks, so if they get hurt, oh well. But many jobs are inherently dangerous and we don't dispose of those wasted workers once they're injured.
Should a roofer be excluded from care if one takes a 20-foot tumble? Should a law enforcement officer who is assaulted be excluded because she knew the job was risky?
If pro athletes are not covered for repetitive stress injuries, some fear the policy could eventually extend to other workers who don't get paid to beat the tar out of each other.
Does a jack-hammering construction worker who shakes and gyrates for decades deserve to be tossed aside when the years of cumulative trauma take their toll? What about a stenographer who types himself into carpal tunnel syndrome and wrist splints?
What has raised eyebrows is that some of the athletes filing claims in California played for out-of-state teams. California is one of nine states that allow workers' compensation claims for repetitive stress injuries, and since half of the games pro sports teams play are "away" games, many take place in California.
But if the transient nature of some work serves to punish those employees, other jobs where workers frequently cross state lines may also be in the crosshairs someday. Think of truck drivers and flight attendants.
This newspaper put ink to paper with an editorial last month commending the legislature for "injecting some reason into the system by barring such claims." But concerned citizens did not contact legislators to call for action.
This was a non-issue until the recent brain-injury pressures began mounting and the NFL was forced to acknowledge the issue — after years of denials, akin to Big Tobacco CEOs denying the dangers of smoking some decades ago.
Due to the multi-year latency period of many of these disorders, by the time a retired player is diagnosed, it's too late to file a claim in most states.
California's clock on claim-filing doesn't begin to run until diagnosis. So suddenly, with medical science revealing that cracking skulls for a living can cause dementia and other neurological disorders that could prove quite costly for the league, we have a bill.
While the Golden State should not have to carry the burden that other states have shrugged off on California, neither should taxpayers from coast to coast. And when plutocrat NFL owners don't have to buy private workers' compensation insurance to cover players, the burden is simply shifted to taxpayers via Medicare when some of those players are bedridden and eating out of a feeding tube.
Dirk Stemerman is a lawyer with Rucka, O'Boyle, Lombardo & McKenna in Monterey. This column is intended to answer questions of general interest and should not be construed as legal advice. Mail queries to "On the Job," c/o The Monterey County Herald, Box 271, Monterey 93942