Workers’ Comp Case Involving Former AFL Player Heads to FL Supreme Court

08.16.2017


By Phil Yacuboski

Orlando, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – A workers’ comp case involving a former player of the Arena Football League (AFL) will head to the Florida Supreme Court. Bryon Bishop is trying to collect workers’ compensation benefits after being injured as a member of the Orlando Predators.

“We are disappointed in the decision,” said Charles Leo, Bishop’s attorney, to WorkersCompensation.com. “The decision left a lot of players out there hanging who played who think they are covered by workers’ compensation, but they are not.”

In June, the Florida First District Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling that maintained benefits for Bishop, who hurt his neck and knee while on the second day of practice for the team in July of 2013. The court argued he was not an employee of the team because while Bishop and the coach signed the contract for him to play, it was not signed by the league office in Chicago. 

“That gap is what puts a lot of players at risk,” Leo said.    

The head of the union for the players said there’s some “standard misunderstand(ings)” when it comes to their contracts.

“I think that the workers’ compensation claim when it was filed was legitimate,” said Ivan Soto, Executive Director of the AFL Players Union. “I think what the court doesn’t understand is that the coach is actually the league official, not the team official.  He was signing on behalf of the league.”

Soto said AFL players are employed by the league, not the teams. He said this is the first time he’s aware of a case such as this becoming an issue in the AFL. 

The Orlando Predators folded in October of 2016 after 25 years.    

“It’s completely preposterous to us,” Soto said. “This is a labor issue on top of this court case,” He added that they are currently working with the league and its legal counsel to prevent these types of legal disputes from happening in the future.

“Whether the league did it or the team in the league did it, clearly there was an employee/employer relationship that went on and he played and he got paid,” said Barry Bloom, Principal with The bdb Group and Editor-in-Chief of the California Workers’ Compensation Handbook. “Regardless of whether the mothership or the franchise signed him, he has an employer, it’s just a matter of which one.”

Bloom said in some states, there are unemployed workers’ insurance funds where there’s an employer that does not have workers’ compensation insurance because of fraud or negligence and the injured worker is not penalized because of those reasons. 

“This case is very narrow,” said Rick Sabetta, Managing Principal, Risk Navigation Group, in Morristown, NJ, “but the courts are more open to looking at these cases in greater detail now than in other states like California where cases have mushroomed.”

Those cases involve former National Football League (NFL) players who claim the teams conspired to give them drugs and injections to get them back on the playing field more quickly, without looking at the long-term damages. In July, a California judge dismissed most of the claims, but allowed three claims brought forth by two former players to go forward. 

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