Category Archives: Workers’ Compensastion

The surprising history of student-athletes and workers’ comp (Part 1)

The term “student-athlete” has a surprising history

In Taylor Branch’s fascinating article, “The Shame of College Sports,” in September’s The Atlantic magazine on the history and often hypocrisy of the NCAA, acclaimed author Taylor Branch reveals an unexpected reason behind the usage of the term “student–athlete”: avoiding worker’s compensation liability.

Due to the “special” status of a student-athlete under the NCAA, however, they are not entitled to worker’s compensation for their injuries under the law.

Collegiate athletes certainly suffer injuries during their playing careers on campus. Many of these athletes receive items of value from the university, in the form of scholarships, lodging, meals, athletic gear, etc, which, if they were called “employees,” would be part of their wages for worker’s compensation purposes. Due to the “special” status of a student-athlete under the NCAA, however, they are not entitled to worker’s compensation for their injuries under the law.

According to Mr. Branch, the term “student-athlete” came into play in the 1950s when the widow of a student who died playing football in Colorado for the Fort Louis A&M Aggies brought a worker’s compensation claim for death benefits. The Colorado Supreme Court, agreed with the college that the student was not an employee at the time of injury, using the following interesting language (ironic in the big business of current revenue-driven college athletics):

“It is significant that the college did not receive a direct benefit from the activities, since the college was not in the football business and received no benefit from the field of recreation. In fact, the state conducted institution, supported by taxpayers, could not as a matter of business enter into the maintenance of a football team for the purpose of making a profit directly or indirectly out of the taxpayers’ money.” (State Compensation Insurance Fund v. Industrial Commission, 135 Colo. 570, 314 P.2d 288 (1957))

Wow. A court may have some difficulty using those words in today’s atmosphere. Regardless, Branch’s article detailed how, since that ruling, the NCAA has continued to use the term “student-athlete” as a shield.

Check back with us on Monday to find what Wisconsin workers’ compensation law can tell us about this issue.


Workers Should Challenge Compensation Denials

Even if your claim is denied, it may be an error and you may still be eligible for workers' compensation.

Workers’ Compensation claims are down in volume nationally. My colleagues who represent injured workers indicate their inventories are diminished; my colleague adversaries representing insurance carriers and employers indicate their claims and case files are substantially down as well. In Wisconsin the industry is experiencing a decline in premium volume representing an absence of payroll. The only slight uptake is in the manufacturing sector, not representing new hires but merely increased overtime. Lower case volumes have produced a “race to the bottom” in hourly rates charged by firms to defend the claims, and all parties involved in the worker’s compensation arena, doctors, vocational experts, private investigators, surveillance companies, and insurance adjusters are experiencing a decline.

Some of the decline is attributable to the unfortunate phenomena of workers with meritorious claims not challenging the denial of the claim by “independent” medical examinations.

One unfortunate consequence of the troubled economy and decline in job opportunities is that workers are not challenging questionable denials of their worker’s compensation claims. Fear of termination, employer retribution, or other job opportunities is likely prompting workers to simply accept compensation denials by the worker’s Continue reading

Bad Cases Make Bad Law

The Illinois legislature just passed a law in response to a notorious claim in which a Sheriff Deputy, driving more than 100 miles per hour while using his cell phone, crossed a median and slammed into a car, killing two teenage sisters.

The claim drew regional and national attention and ultimately resulted in a revision in Illinois’ worker’s compensation claims that would prevent any State employee hurt at work from being eligible for worker’s compensation if the injury happened during a forcible felony, an aggravated DUI, or reckless homicide, if any of those crimes killed or injured another person.

The law is much more restrictive than the initial media summaries blaring “State law bars State employees injured while committing crimes from receiving worker’s comp.”

This is another example of bad cases creating bad law.

This is another example of bad cases creating bad law. The Sheriff filed a worker’s compensation claim for his injuries but an arbitrator concluded that his high speed and cell phone use was a “substantial and unjustifiable risk resulting in gross deviation” barring his claim. The Illinois legislature reacted to the media and public outcry.

In other states, notably Wisconsin, Continue reading