NY judge limits NFL in workers comp cases

A New York judge says the NFL must be limited in how much money

it can recover when injured NFL players receive state workers’

compensation awards.

Judge Paul Crotty wrote in a decision Friday that the NFL

sometimes wants to recover more money than it is entitled to

receive to offset its salary and benefits expenses for injured

players.

The NFL Players Association says the ruling protects a

significant benefit for former players.

Jeffrey Kessler, an attorney with the players association, said

NFL teams had been going to court in various states and arguing

they could deduct any salary benefits they paid to players after

the injury. He said the league considered an earlier ruling by

Crotty to apply only to the individual players named in the lawsuit

rather than everyone in similar circumstances.

”Retired players frequently have very severe injuries,”

Kessler said. ”It’s very significant to the retired players.”

Kessler said it could ultimately involve tens of millions of

dollars paid out to hundreds of former players.

The NFL argues the ruling only pertains to the proper

calculation of workers compensation benefits for players who also

receive injury protection payments.

”The federal court decision … concerned only the question of

the proper calculation of workers compensation benefits received by

NFL players who also have received from their clubs injury

protection payments under the recently expired CBA,” league

spokesman Greg Aiello said in an email to The Associated Press.

”The court ruled that a prior arbitration decision on how such

offsets should be calculated under the NFL player contract should

be enforced. The NFL clubs have fully abided by that decision.

”… there was no finding by the federal court of any

‘unlawful’ conduct or any finding that an NFL club has failed to

pay workers compensation benefits due to players under state

law.”

The issue has been a point of contention in collective

bargaining agreement negotiations between players and the NFL. The

league locked out the players on March 11 after the NFLPA dissolved

as a union and 10 players filed for an injunction to block the

lockout.

The NFLPA filed a grievance on May 17, 2005 against the Buffalo

Bills and New York Jets on behalf of two injured players, Steve

Harvey and David Alexander. The Bills and Jets claimed offsets for

the entire amount of workers’ compensation benefits they paid to

Harvey and Alexander.

Four months later, the NFLPA brought a similar grievance against

the Carolina Panthers on behalf of players Charles Smith, Dusty

Renfro, Michael Swift and Jason Peter.

Again, the NFLPA argued the Panthers’ dollar-for-dollar claim

was inappropriate and that they were entitled only to recoup a much

smaller amount according to a formula spelled out in the contract

that calculates how much of the season each player was injured.

In February 2007, an arbitrator ruled in favor of the NFLPA, and

a federal court in Manhattan confirmed the arbitrator’s award a

year later. The NFL Management Council opposed the confirmation,

asking the court to conclude it didn’t have jurisdiction.

But Crotty confirmed the award Friday, and rejected the NFL

request for dollar-for-dollar compensation.