In Illinois if you are injured on the job, or develop future injuries as a result of your employment, then you are able to bring an Illinois workers’ compensation claim, which would be handled by the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission (IWCC). However, if your injuries were the result of your career as a pro-football player, then you would not be able to bring a workers’ compensation claim under the IWCC. As a pro-football player your only option to recover medical payments under a workers’ compensation system is under the Industrial Commission of California.
These cases are brought in the Industrial Commission in California because that’s the only jurisdiction that allows long-retired professional athletes to pursue workers’ compensation for injuries they suffered and continue to suffer from their playing days. Illinois has no similar provision for recovery in the Illinois Industrial Commission.
Many of these retired National Football League (NFL) players are represented by Ron Mix and Mel Owens, two former NFL players turned lawyers. Mix and Owens represent over 1,000 retired NFL players in the workers’ compensation system in California. Like many Illinois workers’ compensation cases, decisions have to be made by the injured party as to whether to accept a lump sum settlement that would end any future payment of medical care or to leave open medical in case that the worker requires future medical treatment.
This lump-sum settlement is typically based on evidence presented by doctors as to the current medical treatment. However, this evidence does not always take into consideration future medical effects.
One of the attorneys, Mel Owens, reports that as many as 75% of his ex-player clients report some sort of work-related brain injury when they filed their claims. However, even though they still suffer from a life-altering condition, most surrender future medical care in exchange for the lump sum. In fact, more than 90% of Mix and Owens’ clients opt for a lump-sum settlement instead of lifetime medical care for their football injuries.
However, the quick solution might not be the wisest choice in the long run for many retired football players. Compared to the general population, former NFL players are much more likely to develop dementia in their lifetime. Under the current system, former NFL players do not receive long-term medical coverage.
Terrell Buckley, a former defensive back for the Green Bay Packers and Miami Dolphins, is one of the few ex-football players who turned down a lump-sum settlement. According to his March 2009 workers’ compensation deposition, Buckley turned down the lump sum because he was experiencing painful headaches and short-term memory loss in addition to the orthopedic issues covered in his claim. Buckley turned down the insurance company’s settlement offer partly because he wanted additional answers about the long-term effects of his football career.
The majority of workers’ compensation claims filed by former NFL players have been related to orthopedic injuries. However, a new case filed by Ralph Wenzel deals with claims regarding early-onset dementia. Wenzel’s claim will serve as a test case regarding the NFL’s liability for cognitive damage experienced by retired players. If successful, Wenzel’s workers’ compensation claim could open the door for dozen of retirees to receive coverage from their teams and insurance companies for medical assistance.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois workers’ compensation cases for over 30 years, serving those areas in and around Cook County, including Skokie, Oak Forest, Bolingbrook, and Blue Island.
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