SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California's workers' compensation system has awarded millions of dollars in benefits for job-related injuries to thousands of professional athletes, including many who played for out-of-state teams, according to a report.
Sports leagues and their insurers are working to stop the practice, which has paid an estimated $747 million to about 4,500 players since the early 1980s, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Some of the athletes played as little as one game in California.
"The system is completely out of whack right now," said Jeff Gewirtz, vice president of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets, told the Times.
Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis, a former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, got a $199,000 settlement for injuries related to football. This came despite the fact Davis was on the roster of a Colorado team and played just nine times in the Golden State during an 88-game career, the newspaper said.
Among other sports stars receiving settlements were NBA star Moses Malone, who was awarded $155,000, and Dallas Cowboys great Michael Irvin, who received $249,000.
The athletes are taking advantage of a provision in state law that provides payments for the cumulative effect of injuries over years of playing.
The benefits usually come as lump-sum settlements but sometimes provide lifetime medical services.
California taxpayers are not responsible for these payments; workers' compensation is an employer-funded program. Anyone who is employed in the state for any period of time can be eligible for benefits to pay for medical expenses and compensate for work-related disabilities.
Players, their lawyers and their unions plan to fight to protect these payouts. They say some pros, particularly football players, have short careers and end up with costly, debilitating injuries that aren't sufficiently covered by league disability benefits.
In addition to the cumulative benefits, California also offers a longer window to file a claim than other states.
"California is a last resort for a lot of these guys because they've already been cut off in the other states," said Mel Owens, a former Los Angeles Rams linebacker who is now a compensation lawyer.
Legislation in Sacramento being drafted by team owners would not limit the ability of athletes for the Los Angeles Lakers, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders and other in-state teams to seek cumulative trauma benefits under California law, the Times said. However, it would protect those teams from being hit by big claims from out-of-state players, who might have spent just a few weeks at a training camp with a California team at some point in their careers.
A legislator to sponsor the bill is expected to be named next week.