NFL Offensive Lineman Loses Offensive California Claim in Court Decision

07 Aug, 2012 Bob Wilson


Yesterday a federal court stopped Tennessee Titans offensive line coach Bruce Matthews attempts to receive workers' compensation in the state of California. The three-judge 9th Circuit court upheld an arbitration award barring the former offensive lineman from attempting to get benefits under workers' compensation law in California. 

Mathews spent 19 years playing football for the Houston Oilers and it's subsequent  teams, the Tennessee Oilers and the Tennessee Titans. I would note at this time that neither Houston or Nashville was, last time I checked, ever domiciled in California. Seems like a pesky little point, but I plan to refer back to it momentarily. 

It was the position of both the Titans and the National Football League Management Council that Matthews' application for benefits in California breached an employment agreement requiring workers' compensation claims to be handled under Tennessee law. An arbitrator supported that contention, and found for the defense, barring Matthews from seeking California benefits.

This is where it gets good. In his appeal, Matthews took what I think to be an outlandish position. He argued that the "arbitration award violated California public policy against workers' compensation waivers and federal labor policy preventing employment contracts from trumping state minimum labor standards".

Huh? A Tennessee football player, who worked and lived in Tennessee, for a Tennessee employer, and who went through (and lost) arbitration in the same state, now says it violated California public policy? A rational person might be compelled to ask, "What the hell does California have to do with this?"

Oh yeah, He also took the position in his appeal that the award violated the U.S. Constitution, saying California "has the absolute right to apply its workers' compensation laws within its borders and to prohibit any employee from waiving those rights."

Perhaps we should grant California "most favored nation" status.

No one is arguing that California "has the absolute right to apply its workers' compensation laws within its borders and to prohibit any employee from waiving those rights." I believe the issue was this employee was no where near California. 

At the heart of this case, of course, is a much broader attempt by a large number of current and former NFL players to gain benefits from the  state of California, which is largely viewed as having more claimant friendly benefits than other states. The theory has been that, theoretically under California law, any player who was on the roster for a team that played at least one game in the state is eligible to file for workers' comp there. They are not encumbered with proving their injury happened in the state, and in fact do not even have to show they played while there. They simply had to be there at some point in their career.

I think the 9th Circuit got it right. "State shopping" for the best claim environment simply doesn't make sense, and if the players are successful in their attempts it could have broader impact. Could we someday file in California just because we have traveled there for business?

Now that is a real offensive line, man.


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