Sports

State Senate Approves Bill Barring Pro Athletes On Non-Calif. Teams From Collecting Calif. Worker Comp Benefits

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Professional athletes who spent most of their careers with teams in other states but played some games in California would be prohibited from filing state workers’ compensation claims under a bill approved Friday by the state Senate.

“There is no reason an out-of-state athlete should seek these benefits in California having never been employed by a California team,” said Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, who carried AB1309 in the Senate.

The bill by Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, would block future claims for non-specific cumulative injuries.

Hill said the out-of-state claims increase the burden on the state workers’ compensation system, jam administration hearings, and could raise insurance costs. He said the athletes should get compensation for their injuries in the state where they were primarily employed.

But Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, noted that the compensation itself is paid not by taxpayers, but by employers including the owners of professional football, baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer teams.

“This is an effort by the team owners to not pay players,” Wright said.

The measure passed the Senate on a 34-2 vote and returns to the Assembly for final action. The Senate amended the bill to allow claims that already have been filed to continue through the process.

California is one of nine states that currently permit workers’ compensation claims on cumulative trauma injuries like those incurred by professional athletes over time. Labor groups opposed the bill for fear it would set a precedent for limiting access to benefits.

Among the high-profile players who have filed claims are retired Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders, who alleges that he sustained injuries to his head, neck, leg and “multiple parts” while playing for the Dallas Cowboys. His claim for injuries between 1995 and 2000 is still pending, public records show.

The state’s workers compensation program has paid out $41.7 million in losses since 2002 for claims from professional athletes, Hill said. Athletes filed an average 34 new claims per month from 2006 through 2012, he said.

“This loophole has been abused and utilized by out-of-state athletes,” he said.

Under Perea’s bill, players from out-of-state teams would still be allowed to file claims if they spent more than 20 percent of their professional time in California or worked for a California-based team for part of their professional or semi-professional career.

California already has broad limits on filing workers’ compensation claims based on when players learn of the injury and whether they were properly notified of their compensation rights when they retired.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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