E-Alert Case Updates
Former Punter Prevails Against Washington Redskins in Workers’ Compensation Claim
Pro-Football, Inc., t/a The Washington Redskin v. Thomas J. Tupa, Jr.
In Pro-Football, Inc. v. Tupa, the Court overruled its prior decision in Rowe v. Baltimore Colts, 53 Md. App. 526 (1983) and held that a professional football player has a legitimate workers’ compensation claim in the State of Maryland when that football player is injured on the job. Additionally, the Maryland Court of Appeals held that forum selection clauses in employment contracts for workers’ compensation are void because they are preempted by Maryland statute. In so holding, the Court of Appeals upheld the Workers’ Compensation Commission’s award of benefits for Thomas Tupa, Jr., a former punter for the Washington Redskins.
In March 2004, the Washington Redskins signed Thomas Tupa, Jr. to a four-year deal, to serve as the punter for the Washington Redskins. At the time of the contract, Mr. Tupa had a degenerative back condition, but team physicians opined that it would not affect Mr. Tupa’s ability to play football for at least a couple of years. In August 2005, in a pregame warm-up for a preseason football game, however, Mr. Tupa fell and landed on his back. After the fall, Mr. Tupa felt a sharp pain in his lower back for which he sought follow-up medical treatment. An MRI revealed that Mr. Tupa’s condition had rapidly progressed, and that he would be unable to play football for the Washington Redskins. Mr. Tupa had a second opinion in which the doctor also opined that Mr. Tupa would be unable to play football for the Washington Redskins, and that he would require surgery. Mr. Tupa opted to delay any surgical procedure, and as a result he is unable to play football for the remainder of his career. The Washington Redskins paid Mr. Tupa the remainder due on his contract.
On March 30, 2007, Mr. Tupa filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits with the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission. The Washington Redskins moved to dismiss that claim on the grounds that: (1) a forum selection clause in Mr. Tupa’s employment contract selected Virginia as the applicable state of all workers’ compensation claims; and (2) professional football players cannot receive workers’ compensation benefits under Maryland law. The Workers’ Compensation Commission, however, denied the Washington Redskins’ motion and entered an award on behalf of Mr. Tupa. Mr. Tupa’s award was affirmed by the Court of Special Appeals. The Washington Redskins sought certiorari which the Court of Appeals granted.
The first issue before the Maryland Court of Appeals was whether the forum selection clause in the employment contract divested the Maryland courts of jurisdiction of this workers’ compensation case. The Court of Appeals held that the Maryland statute provides that an employee is not permitted to waive any rights under the workers’ compensation laws. MD. CODE ANN., LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT § 9-104(a). Therefore, the Maryland Court of Appeals found that the Maryland statute preempted any forum selection clause in the contract because the employee was merely waiving his rights under Maryland workers’ compensation law.
The second issue for appeal was whether a professional football player can receive workers’ compensation benefits in Maryland. In 1983, the Court of Special Appeals decided the case of Rowe v. Baltimore Colts, 53 Md. App. 526 (1983). In Rowe, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals held that since football was a violent and dangerous sport, any injuries sustained during the course of their employment as a football player were not “accidental injuries” within the meaning of the Workers’ Compensation Act. In this case, the Maryland Court of Appeals overruled Rowe, because it found that there are numerous dangerous vocations for which workers’ compensation recovery is still afforded. In fact, the NFL takes numerous precautions to protect its players from injury, and it is not the intent of the vocation to be injured. The Court of Appeals held that such a decision would render other professions, such as mine workers, too dangerous to receive workers’ compensation benefits, which the Court of Appeals deemed an absurd result. Therefore, the Court of Appeals held that professional football players can receive workers’ compensation benefits under Maryland law.
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