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Bruce Matthews case gives players a path to California workers’ compensation benefits


For years, the NFL and the NFLPA have been squabbling in a variety of court systems regarding the ability of injured players to pursue workers’ compensation benefits in California. A recent federal appeals court decision, while resulting in a defeat for Hall of Fame guard Bruce Matthews, paved the way for players to nullify contractual clauses requiring them to pursue workers’ compensation cases only in the states where their teams are located.

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled last week that, if the player has suffered an injury in California, he can’t be prevented from seeking workers’ compensation benefits in California, regardless of any provisions in his contract to the contrary. Matthews lost his case because he didn’t show that kind of connection to California.

Players generally prefer California because of the perception that it’s easier to get benefits, and the awards are larger. Moving forward, players can get benefits under California law, as long as the injury happens while playing there.

Though the dollars involved aren’t nearly big enough to make the league inclined to avoid doing business in California, the extent to which the league and the players have been fighting on this issue makes us wonder whether the league ultimately would prefer, when filling the L.A. market, to not increase the total number of California teams beyond the current total of three. If so, that makes the Chargers and Raiders more likely to move to Los Angeles than teams not located in California.