Maryland’s high court is considering whether professional football players who play for teams in the state can claim workers’ compensation benefits for injuries sustained at out-of-state games.
It’s a question that’s being asked in courtrooms and state legislatures across the country as more players are seeking workers’ compensation for injuries sustained in the war professional sports wages on their bodies.
In arguments Thursday, Benjamin T. Boscolo, attorney for former Redskin Darnerien McCants, argued that his client is entitled to benefits from the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission for several injuries sustained by McCants during his time with the team.
McCants played in 34 games for the Redskins between 2002 and 2004. Eighteen of the games were at FedEx Field in Landover, and 16 were played out of state.
At a 2003 game in Philadelphia, McCants suffered an injury to his neck. Two weeks later, in Buffalo, N.Y., McCants injured his right ankle and both shoulders. On Aug. 17, 2004, he injured his right knee while practicing in Ashburn, Va.
The Washington Redskins, which is incorporated under the name Pro-Football Inc., have argued against the claims of McCants and another former Redskin, Thomas J. Tupa Jr., saying the players have no standing in Maryland and should file their claims in Virginia.
Tupa, a punter, was injured during pre-game practice at FedEx Field. The Redskins also argue that his claim should be filed in Virginia.
In both cases, the Court of Special Appeals decided in favor of the players, and the Redskins appealed the cases to the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.
David O. Godwin Jr. argued that McCants worked more in Virginia than any other state, reporting to regular practices there and choosing to live in the state to be close to the team’s Ashburn headquarters, practice field and other facilities.
“Players spend hours upon hours practicing at a location outside of this state,” Godwin said. “It really is about the plaintiff forum shopping for coverage that may be different, better than is available in Virginia.”
Boscolo argued that McCants ultimately was hired to do one thing: play in football games. Because all Redskins home games are played in Landover, the team should be considered a Maryland-based employer and there should be no issue about his client’s claim.
“The nature of the employment is to play games in FedEx stadium. More of what they’re hired to do is done in Maryland than any other place,” Boscolo said.
Michael Hayes, associate professor of law at the University of Baltimore, said such cases are complicated and often wind up in court because of the amount of traveling involved with the job and the various benefits awarded by state workers’ compensation programs.
“This is a big issue in all of pro sports,” Hayes said.
In Florida, the state’s professional teams hired lobbyists who saw passage of a bill requiring Florida athletes to file their workers’ compensation claims — for injuries sustained wherever they are playing — within the state. Previously, several players from the state had been awarded workers’ compensation benefits in California, where the law is more beneficial for injured employees and leads to higher costs for employers.
That’s what’s driving the McCants and Tupa cases in Maryland, Boscolo said.
“This is all really about California. They don’t want players to go and file in California,” Boscolo said. “Cumulative trauma claims are very expensive for employers in California.”
Boscolo said he wasn’t certain why McCants filed for workers’ compensation in Maryland in the first place, but acknowledged that there were benefits when compared to Virginia.
For example, Maryland’s rules for cumulative traumatic injuries are more relaxed, and the need to show causation for injuries is stricter in Virginia. Also, certain injuries common to athletes in areas such as the head, neck and back don’t qualify for coverage in Virginia.
There is a financial benefit, too. Workers’ compensation claims in Virginia are based on wages already lost by the injured worker. In Maryland, workers’ compensation payouts are tied to the injured person’s wage capacity, or how much they could earn in the future had they not been hurt.
The Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission consists of 10 members who are appointed to 12-year terms by the governor.