Ex-NFL Linebacker’s Workers’ Compensation Claim Proceeds On Basis of Two Games Played in California
As an example of the type of claim likely meant to be curtailed by AB 1309 (previously discussed here), the claim of a former Carolina Panthers/Cleveland Browns linebacker continues to process its way through the California workers’ compensation system.
In his claim, ex-NFL linebacker Tarek Saleh alleged that he sustained multiple injuries while employed as a football player for the Carolina Panthers between May 1997-February 1999 and for the Cleveland Browns from February 1999-January 2002.
When Saleh was traded to the Browns, he signed contractual addenda providing language which purportedly required Saleh to bring any workers’ compensation claims against the team in Ohio. Saleh’s prior contract with the Panthers, assumed by the Browns, contained no such clause. Saleh never resided in California, but practiced and played in California for the Browns on two occasions in 1999 and 2000 and he maintained that he was injured in games and received treatment in California.
By decision on February 1, 2013, a California workers’ compensation ALJ found that Saleh sustained injuries to the head, neck, back, spine, shoulders, elbows, left hip, right wrist, hands, knees, left ankle, feet, internal neurologic system, post-traumatic head syndrome, post-traumatic headaches, sleep disturbances, and chronic pain resulting in a 58% permanent disability following apportionment. The decision also found that the only liable employer was the Browns and found the team to be uninsured in the state of California.
The Browns filed a petition for reconsideration, citing claimant’s 2000-2001 employment contract addenda which designated Ohio as the forum for any workers’ compensation claims as well as arguing both that it was permissibly self-insured in Ohio and that the Board lacked jurisdiction.
The Appeals Board remanded for further proceedings on the questions of jurisdiction, existence of an injury occurring in California (likely due to Saleh’s limited playing time in California), and the enforceability of the contractual forum selection clause. The matter was also remanded based on evidentiary rulings which resulted in no sufficient evidence demonstrating that the Browns were properly self-insured and indicated that it was not “persua[ded]” by the argument that Saleh was not entitled to benefits under Section 5500.5 which deals, in part, with apportionment of liability.
The Brown’s request for a writ of review on the question of jurisdiction and review of the self-insurance question was denied by June 12, 2014 decision.
Ultimately, the case serves as a valuable warning for any entity sending athletes into the state of California to ensure not only that they have adequate coverage for players who are temporarily in the state, but to also be aware of the intricacies of California’s claimant-friendly cumulative-trauma policies.
For more, see Tarek Saleh v. Cleveland Browns et al, 2014 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. LEXIS 107 (February 27, 2014) and Cleveland Browns, PSI v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, 79 Cal. Comp. Cases 941, 2014 Cal. Wrk. Comp. LEXIS 87 (June 12, 2014).