Choice of Law Provisions Bar NFL Player’s Workers’ Compensation Claims
A group of 15 former National Football League (NFL) players, including former Buffalo Bills defensive end Aaron Schobel, have asked the California Northern District Court to overturn a ruling of an arbitrator who concluded that players could not file for workers’ compensation in California due to choice of law provisions in their contracts. The defendants include the NFL, the Buffalo Bills, and the New York Giants.
Under California law, players who have played at least one or more football games in California (even though they were not members of a California-based team) may have a sufficient basis to file a jurisdictionally-proper claim for workers’ compensation. As California permits claims for repeated trauma that occur over time, and as more becomes known with respect to the long-term nature of head injuries suffered by former NFL players, California is a potential destination for claims stemming from older football injuries.
In this set of particular claims, however, the issue is one of choice of law. Arbitrator Michael Beck has concluded that the players at issue had signed contracts with choice of law provisions that prohibit filing suit in California.
The players, however, allege that the matter of Matthews v. National Football League Management Council, a recent Ninth Circuit decision, requires reversal of the arbitrator’s decision as against California public policy. In the case, Bruce Matthews, a former NFL player alleged sustained an injury while playing football without specifically alleging that he sustained an injury in California. There, the Ninth Circuit relied on prior precedent in stating that
[t]o establish that the arbitration award [denying Matthews’ claim] here violates California policy, Matthews must show that his workers’ compensation claim comes within the scope of California’s workers’ compensation regime.
Both injured former NFL players and NFL management would do well to follow the results of this claim, which will further define the ability of an injured current or former football player to seek workers’ compensation in the State of California regardless of any choice of law provisions in their contracts.