This post has been updated to add another similar court decision this morning.
Reading through opinions from the Maryland Court of Appeals, one does not often find the justices grappling with quandaries such as “whether injuries occurring while playing and practicing professional football are accidental injuries’ and thus compensable under the Maryland Workers' Compensation Act.”
That phrase comes from a decision handed down this week in a case pitting former Redskins punter Thomas J. Tupa Jr. — you probably remember him as Tom Tupa — versus his former employers, the Washington Redskins, whom you might not recognize in legal papers as “Pro-Football, Inc., t/a the Washington Redskins.”
The central drama of the case surrounds what happened to Tupa seven years ago, on Aug. 19, 2005, at FedEx Field in Landover.
The decision says that “during his pre-game warm-up for a preseason game, Tupa landed awkwardly after a punt and felt a sharp pain in his lower back. He described the pain as a ‘jarring’ sensation, sought immediate medical attention, and received medication.”
Tupa never got better. He eventually left the NFL, and he filed for workers’ comp.
In the interest of saving digital space, let us just say that legal challenges to Tupa’s claims went into overtime and eventually made their way to Maryland’s highest court, which considered two issues.
One: Could Tupa could file in Maryland even though the team’s headquarters was in Virginia?
Two: Are football injuries “accidental injuries” or not?
In the first, the court ruled that the punter could file in Maryland, citing a litany of case law. In the second — the more interesting point of contention — the team and its insurers argued that Tupa’s injury was not accidental. Football is a dangerous sport, etc.
The state high court, in its decision, took a narrow reading of Maryland’s workers’ comp law, ruling that “Tupa’s injury occurred ‘out of and in the course of [his] employment.’”
It added: “He was warming up for a game when he landed awkwardly and thereafter sought immediate medical treatment. Ample evidence was presented to show that Tupa suffered a compensable accidental injury during the course of his employment.”
Tupa gets his workers’ comp.
“For Tupa, it means lifetime medical care,” Benjamin T. Boscolo, Tupa’s attorney, told the Baltimore Sun. "It means surgery if and when he gets to a place where he can't function in his state of health.”
You can read the entire 16-page decision here.
In a separate but similar case on Thursday, the court handed down another decision in support of a former Redskins player seeking workers’ comp in the state.
The court said Darnerien McCants, a former wide receiver, could in fact seek workers’ comp in Maryland even though the team argued that the bulk of his employment was in Virginia, where the team practices, hold meetings and watches film. Also, several of his injuries occured out of state.
That decision is here.