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Bengals Escape California WC Jurisdiction

June 24th, 2013

Are you sick and tired of that gloomy intersection where pro-sports and workers’ compensation reluctantly meets?  Well too bad, because there’s more!

Now, I’m not going to bore you with all the details in the recent en banc decision from the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, Wesley Carroll v. Cincinnati Bengals.  Here is the skinny on that case: injured pro-sports player Wesley Carroll filed a claim in California after playing some 6 games in California (out of a total of 48; 12.5%).

The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board found that one of the teams, the Cincinnati Bengals, was exempt from California’s crushing, ruthless, and back-breaking workers’ compensation system thanks to that coveted escape route of Labor Code section 3600.5.

As you may recall, section 3600.5 allows an out-of-state employer to escape California comp jurisdiction if:

  1. The employee is only “temporarily” in California;
  2. The employee is covered by extra-territorial insurance (meaning the policy applies to the worker even when he or she is out of the state in which he or she normally works);
  3. The laws of the state where the employee is normally employed are “similar” to those of California; and
  4. The state where the employee is normally employed has a reciprocity rule with California.  In other words, California keeps its hands off state X, and state X keeps its hands of California employees injured in state X.

Ok, so, why do you care?  After all, it looks like these claims might go the way of the dodo soon enough if certain legislation makes it through the Sacramento maze.  And, even if that fails, there are about 1,700 pro-football players in the United States, some of which are employed in California.  Compare that to almost 16 million people employed in California alone.  Why does this opinion matter to those of us who don’t represent or handle pro sports cases?

I’m glad you asked! (You did ask, right? This slowly unraveling blogger could have sworn he heard a voice ask…)

If we forget about the fact-specific ruling of the Carroll opinion, what is the average person left with?  The WCAB is telling us, in a binding authority opinion, the following:

A person who spent 12.5% of his time in California and the rest employed elsewhere is in the state only temporarily.  As is 15.7% (5 of 32 games played for the Bengals).  In fact, the language of the opinion lends itself to the theory that, even if applicant had spent 99% of his time in California, so long as he had the intent to leave California after his task was completed, he could still be regarded as only temporarily within the state.

Another holding to keep for future need is the WCAB’s opinion with respect to Ohio.  The WCAB here concludes that Ohio recognizes the extraterritorial provisions of other states; and that Ohio exempts California employers and employees from its own workers’ compensation system, thereby satisfying the elements of section 3600.5.

So, if you’ve got an Ohio employee temporarily in the state for a conference, recruiting, training, or a short-term project, you can rely on this opinion to help you raise the 3600.5 defense.  (Note: in a similar case, California jurisdiction was denied based on a forum selection clause.  See: Dennis McKinley v. Arizona Cardinals)

Now here’s something interesting – the WCAB ordered the Bengals dismissed and sent the matter back down to the Workers’ Compensation Judge for further action on this issue.  But what could be left to litigate about?  Well… there’s also the New Orleans Saints.  The opinion doesn’t offer much about the fate of the Saints, but it will be interesting to see the defense the Saints intend to mount (if any).

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