Former NFL Player, Survivor Contestant Heads to Court for Work Comp Fraud

Liz Carey

Los Angeles, CA (WorkersCompensation.com) – Former professional football player Brad Culpepper will head to court for workers’ compensation fraud, per a California judge’s order.

Culpepper filed a workers’ compensation claim in 2000, under a California law that allowed anyone who visited the state to file workers’ compensation claims there. Culpepper traveled to the state as part of the Bears football team. At the time, the Bears’ insurer paid Culpepper $175,000 when it was determined that Culpepper was 89 percent disabled.

But, the insurance company, now known as TIG, claimed that Culpepper had fraudulently filed the claim after seeing Culpepper and his wife, Monica, compete in the reality TV show “Survivor.”

TIG argued that Culpepper’s participation in the show was “physically demanding,” and that outside of the show, Culpepper was engaged in activities like running and kickboxing, were inconsistent with his injury claim.

“This qui tam lawsuit asserts a public right to challenge a fraudulent workers’ compensation claim. In this case, Mr. Culpepper made representations that he had difficulty lifting his arms above his head, walking a couple of blocks, even getting out of bed in the morning — while all the while he was sparring with professional mixed-martial arts fighters, running long distance races, and making a tape to audition for ‘Survivor’ when he was touting his physical fitness,” the company said in its filings.

Culpepper’s attorney, Steven Mitchel of Booth, Mitchel & Strange, LLP, said Culpepper filed his claim legally because of injuries he received while playing football.

“Mr. Culpepper played nine years in the NFL and suffered debilitating injuries,” Mitchel said in his arguments. “He filed a workers’ compensation claim where the issues of injury were litigated by TIG. They hired lawyers. They were able to investigate his claim. “They entered into a settlement. The settlement was approved by the judge.”

But TIG appealed the earlier settlement. In the appeal, District Judge Cormac J. Carney of the Central District of California found that TIG had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies and held that TIG needed to seek reconsideration by the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) of its approval of the $175,000 settlement in the case.

The insurance company then sued for a false insurance claim in Los Angeles Superior Court. Culpepper, now a private injury attorney, moved the case to federal court.

The Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of the fraudulent claims charge made by Judge Carney, saying the appeal was outside of the scope of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, and should go forward.

Circuit Judge Mary H. Murguia pointed to the fact that Culpepper did things that he could not have done if his workers’ compensation claim were true.

“That’s certainly something that we vigorously deny. What we don’t have before the court is what Mr. Culpepper did with his $175,000,” his attorney Mitchel said, according to Metropolitan News.

Mitchel said Culpepper had done things to heal himself of the disability. “He said, ‘I can’t crouch.’ Well, now he can crouch because he’s done certain things to make himself better,” Mitchel said, according to Metropolitan News.

Culpepper was a professional football player from 1992 to 2000, where he played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Minnesota Vikings, as well as the Bears. After leaving football, Culpepper attended law school at the University of Florida College of Law, and was admitted to the bar in that state in 2002. He and his wife appeared on “Survivor: Blood Vs. Water,” where he was voted out, but his wife was runner-up in the series. Culpepper went on to be nominated to appear on “Survivor: Second Chance,” but was not voted onto the show. Later, Culpepper appeared on “Survivor: Game Changers,” where he made it to runner-up in the competition.

Culpepper’s workers’ compensation claim was one of thousands filed by ex-athletes between the early 1980s and 2013 that allowed athletes who had visited the state to play to file workers’ compensation claims there. A study in 2012 found that nearly 4,500 professional athletes had filed claims netting an estimated $747 million from the California Insurance Guarantee Association.