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While most of us can only dream of earning a living playing our favorite sport for a nation of fans and viewers for millions of dollars a year, we can certainly take an interest in the field of workers’ compensation to understand the rights afforded by law in case of an injury. These athletes are at a great risk for a work-related injury. Furthermore, while many high-profile athletes are making millions of dollars, most professional athletes are not in this upper echelon of the pay scale. You may be curious to learn what the law is regarding compensation in case of injury for these athletes.

Typically, a person whose injury arises out of and in the course of their employment will be entitled to compensation in Illinois for medical care, up to two-thirds of their salary for the time when they are unable to work, and/or a certain award for permanent disability based on impaired earning potential for the rest of their working years. However, the situation for professional athletes becomes murky with complicated contracts, signing bonuses, huge salaries, and the uncertainty of future earning potential as a player’s skill may improve or decline. To deal with these complications, states have adopted different approaches.

Florida specifically excludes professional athletes from the state’s workers’ compensation program. Similarly, in Maryland , in a 1983 case involving of an NFL player, the court held that the injury sustained would not be considered an accidental injury within the meaning of the Maryland workers’ compensation laws.

In Texas , the Texas Labor Code specifically provides workers’ compensation benefits to those for whom adequate compensation is not included under contract or collective bargaining agreement. That is, if a player’s contract has provisions to compensate and rehabilitate an injured athlete, workers’ compensation is not available. As first established in January of 2008, Texas courts upheld a jury finding that in the case of injured Dallas Cowboys lineman, Chad Hennings , workers’ compensation was a better deal because of its longer duration. Therefore, the court decided workers’ compensation benefits were available for Hennings.

In 1999, a minor league baseball player in California was deemed to be eligible for workers’ compensation after his injury. In 2005, North Carolina upheld workers’ compensation rights to NFL players. Here in Illinois , a professional athlete is entitled to workers’ compensation with a cap on how much he can collect. In 1995, the Illinois court held that a professional football player is a skilled worker. An injury that ends his career prematurely could entitle him to weekly compensation benefits for life, despite the fact that professional football players typically have very short careers.

An injured professional athlete’s right to compensation can be overlooked because it may be considered “part of the game” or it may be considered unnecessary because of high salaries. However, many professional athletes are unskilled in other areas, and therefore may not be able to find alternate gainful employment. Workers’ compensation for athletes protects against some costly litigation such as suits against team doctors, promoters, or sports venues. While professional athletes suffer the agony of defeat at the time they are injured, many states have enabled them to experience the thrill of victory in the area of workers’ compensation.

To learn more about Sports & Torts, also see a recent article .

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