Eagles' Linebacker Ties Broken Thumb to Getting Cut from Team, Shows Right to Benefits

                               

Philadelphia, PA (WorkersCompensation.com) – While the Philadelphia Eagles prepare for battle on the gridiron to take the Super Bowl LVII crown, the NFL franchise's legal team recently found itself in the "L" column in a workers' compensation claim waged by a former player.

The linebacker in Philadelphia Eagles v. Emmanuel Acho, No. 1060 C.D. 2021 (Pa. Comm’w Ct. 02/03/23), fractured his thumb during practice on Aug. 11, 2015, and then went on to show in court that that’s why the team cut him from its roster.

A worker’s compensation judge awarded the player total disability benefits from August 11 through November 10. The player only played in one preseason game that year, and no regular season games.

The franchise challenged the WCJ’s decision. It argued that the evidence didn’t show that the team released the player from its roster because his thumb was injured. The team pointed to prior years when it also released the player after he had only played in limited regular season games.

On appeal, the court pointed out that there were a number of factors indicating the team’s decision to let the linebacker go was directly related to the thumb injury. 

First, the court pointed out, it was undisputed that the linebacker stopped playing football immediately after he broke his thumb. 

Further, a doctor performed surgery one or two days after the injury occurred and then the team immediately released the player from its roster. It also paid him an injury settlement pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement. 

In addition, after three weeks, the player was released to play, but he said his "thumb was still very weak, along with the wrist and the things surrounding the thumb" and that it remained "tender, weak and sore.”

The team re-signed him to the roster around November 9, but the player experienced significant pain in his thumb while he practiced, despite a heavily bandaged hand.

“Although Claimant participated in the special teams and scout team portions of practices, he did not play in any games during this period and again was released from Employer's roster approximately 16 days after being re-signed,” the court wrote.

The court also rejected the team’s argument that the player’s releases were no different than what had happened in prior years when the player wasn’t injured.

“Although Employer is correct that, in 2013 and 2014, Claimant had been released from and re-signed to Employer's practice and/or active rosters, it also is clear in the record that Claimant played in regular season games in both of those seasons,” the court wrote.

In 2015, in contrast, the team released him immediately after the surgery on his thumb and paid him a three-week injury settlement. 

“The 2015 release thus clearly was not routine or based on any past practice, but rather was due to Claimant's injury and perceived inability to play,” the court wrote.

Finding that the evidence was sufficient to connect the player’s release from the team and his injured thumb, the court affirmed WCJ’s award of total disability benefits.

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