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Can professional athletes get workers’ comp? You may be surprised.

On Behalf of | Jan 27, 2017 | Workers' Compensation

A lot of people are surprised to learn that most professional athletes have traditionally been allowed to collect workers’ comp benefits when they are injured playing sports – especially since many of these athletes make millions of dollars a year.

In some cases, athletes have even sought workers’ compensation benefits in a completely different state than the one in which their team is located. For example, in years past, many injured athletes applied for workers’ comp in California since it provided some of the most generous benefits in the nation and had a longer statute of limitations than most states – meaning even some retired players could apply for benefits. In many instances, these athletes would be able to collect benefits so long as they could prove they played at least one game in California, even if their team was from another state.

In an effort to stop this, some teams – including one NFL team from Ohio, the Cincinnati Bengals – started putting clauses in the players’ contracts stating they could only seek workers’ comp benefits in certain states. As you can imagine, these clauses led to a great deal of litigation, particularly since they essentially limited the benefits an injured or retired player could seek. Ultimately, lawmakers in many states had to pass new laws to deal with this particular issue.

So what are the current laws in Ohio?

Under current Ohio law, the employers of professional athletes may provide workers’ compensation coverage to players through league-sponsored policies, but only if either of these circumstances apply:

  • The professional sports team is subject to a collective bargaining agreement, and this agreement provides for the uniform administration of workers’ comp benefits.
  • The professional athletes/players are employees of a single-entity sports league, the players all work for the league and not individual member teams, the sports league maintains the workers’ comp insurance for players at all times and individual member teams agree to pay for any workers’ comp claims not covered by the league-maintained workers’ comp insurance policy.

If evidence of this type of elective coverage is provided to the administrator of the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation – and the administrator approves – then the “laws of the state where the policy was issued are the exclusive remedy” for the athlete if he or she is injured while playing, regardless of where the injury actually occurs. In addition, athletes covered under these league-sponsored policies cannot apply for Ohio workers’ comp benefits.