E-Alert Case Updates
Redskins Punter Wins Workers Compensation Appeal
Pro Football, Inc. v. Tupa
Pro Football, Inc. (“Pro Football”) and Ace American Insurance Company (“Ace”) sought to reverse a Workers’ Compensation award granted to Thomas Tupa (“Tupa”), for an injury sustained while Tupa was employed as a professional football player in the National Football League (“NFL”). Pro Football, a Maryland corporation, operates the NFL team, the Washington Redskins. Tupa was employed as a punter for the team from 2004 until 2006. While warming up for a pre-season game at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland in August 2005, Tupa claimed that he injured his lower back when he landed awkwardly after a punt. He sought immediate medical treatment and has not played football since.
Tupa filed a claim with the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission on March 30, 2007, requesting temporary partial disability benefits for the period beginning March 1, 2006 and continuing to the present. Pro Football and Ace contested Tupa’s claim on three (3) grounds. First, Maryland did not allegedly have jurisdiction over the claim. Second, Tupa did not allegedly suffer an “accidental injury” arising out of and in the course of his employment. Third, there was allegedly no causal connection between Tupa’s injury and his ongoing disability. The Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission found that Maryland, rather than Virginia had jurisdiction, and that Tupa’s disability was caused by an accidental injury suffered in the course of his employment. Pro Football and Ace were ordered to pay Tupa compensation for his temporary partial disability and related medical expenses.
Pro Football and Ace filed an appeal to the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County and requested a jury trial. The Court determined that, as a matter of law, Maryland had jurisdiction. The jury then found that Tupa suffered an accidental injury, that his disability was causally connected to his injury, and that he was entitled to benefits for the time period from February 1, 2006 to February 28, 2007. Pro Football and Ace appealed and presented the following issues for appeal: (1) whether the circuit court erred in determining that Maryland had jurisdiction over Tupa’s claim, even though Tupa signed a contract agreeing to bring all workers’ compensation claims in the Commonwealth of Virginia; and (2) whether the circuit court erred in affirming the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission’s finding that Tupa sustained an accidental injury arising out of, and in the course of, his employment.
Pro Football and Ace argued that Maryland did not have jurisdiction to award Tupa workers’ compensation because he was hired to play in Virginia, where the team’s headquarters and practice field are located. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals was not swayed by this argument, however, and pointed out that game days are in Maryland: “It is clear that the purpose of Tupa’s employment was to play in games, not to practice.” Second, the jury award of partial disability and medical expenses was upheld. The Court stated that there was “ample evidence to support the jury’s finding that the jury was causally related to the accident.” It was undisputed that Tupa was physically unable to punt in the NFL.
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