“Cumulative Trauma” California Claim Dismissed by California Court of Appeal

As detailed in prior articles, click here, California has very recently passed litigation in the form of Assembly Bill 1309 an attempt to stem the tide of “cumulative trauma” type claims that have been filed in California by current or former athletes with little or no connection to that state. Although AB 1309 is not discussed in the December 2013 decision of the Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate District in the claim of a former WNBA professional, it is clear that California courts are becoming less-inclined to entertain out-of-state claims.

Federal Ins. Co. v. Workers Compensation Appeals Board and Adrienne Johnson, No. B239201, (Ct. App. of Californis, 2nd. App Dist., Div. 5, December 3, 2013), centers around the claim of Adrienne Johnson.  Ms. Johnson was drafted by the Cleveland Rockers and had a knee surgery in 2004 while playing with the Connecticut Sun (formerly, the Orlando Miracle).  Johnson did not resume play professionally after her surgery.  At no time did Johnson ever reside in California and she received a settlement in a Connecticut workers’ compensation claim for her right knee injury. In 2003, Johnson played only one game in Los Angeles, California. Ultimately, she filed a claim alleging, among other conditions, knee, hip, and shoulder issues.

The Workers’ Compensation Judge initially made indemnity awards, but the Workers’ Compensation Board rescinded the decision for further proceedings to apportion the claim between the present injury and past injuries. Federal Insurance Co. contended that the Board lacked jurisdiction over the claim and the petition for review was granted.

After engaging in a lengthy choice-of-law analysis, the Court of Appeal rejected Johnson’s argument that because her alleged injuries were cumulative, the single game she played in California was sufficient for jurisdiction. The court wrote that “[a] single basketball game played by a professional player does not create a legitimate interest in injuries that cannot be traced factually to one game.  The effect of the California game on the injury is at best de minimis.” The court also cited the facts that Johnson’s employment contract was made in either Connecticut or New Jersey and that Johnson’s injury had been, in part, compensated by the Connecticut workers’ compensation system.  As such, the court concluded that because California did not have a sufficient relationship to her injuries to make the application of California’s workers’ compensation law “reasonable,” the claim was dismissed.

As California’s battle against out-of-state athlete’s claims continues to wage on, California defense practitioners would do well to keep both AB 1309 and this decision in mind when confronted with a claim made by an athlete with little or no connection to the state of California.

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