“Of course you will go to the place where you can file for the best benefits,” said workers’ comp attorney Benjamin Boscolo, whose Maryland-based firm has represented hundreds of Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens. “But owners want them to go to places that are best for owners.”
No place is more worker-friendly than California, one of the few states that recognizes “cumulative trauma,” and allows out-of-state workers to collect benefits essentially for aggregate injuries suffered over the course of their careers. The complex issue has turned the state into an NFL labor battleground. Players have flooded California with claims in recent years, some decades old, others with only tenuous connections to the state.
In response, NFL owners (as well as those from other professional sports leagues) have worked with state lawmakers on a bill that would forbid out-of-state athletes to file there at all. The bill passed the California Assembly in April, and will be heard in the Senate this month. In addition, NFL management has sought court orders to force players to file claims only in their home-team states, where statutes of limitations would effectively eliminate their cases.
In Ohio, where Williams played, the statute of limitations is five years. But Williams’s most serious knee problems only manifested 17 years after he last played.
“What can you know about any of the long-term debilitative effects of playing football in five years?” Williams says.
Plenty of blocked claims
In the fall of 2005, Williams was so debilitated that he had both knees replaced at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. The procedures were paid for not by the Bengals, but by his health insurance from Disney, where he ascended to a vice president’s title. Five months later doctors discovered he had osteomyelitis, a bone infection caused by interior bacteria, which had lain dormant until uncovered by the installation of the prosthetic. The infection threatened to cost him his leg.
He’s convinced his physical ailments are a direct result of a bruising football career. “I didn’t get my knee injuries from an allergic reaction to pixie dust while working at the Disney company,” he said.
In 2007, concerned by mushrooming medical costs and the prospect of lifelong complications, Williams filed for workers’ compensation for cumulative trauma in California, where he had played 20 games — more than a season’s worth. The Bengals opposed him and have continued to block his claim over the last five years. “Mr. Williams simply brought a workers compensation action in California (20 years after he last played), and there is no jurisdiction in that state over his work injuries,” Bengals attorney Tim Peterson said in an e-mail.