Seizing upon a loophole in California law, about 700 National Football League ex-players have filed workers’ compensation claims for orthopedic injuries (such as shoulder or knee injuries) even if they never played for California teams. Successful claimants can get six-figure paydays. Questions have arisen as reported in local media as to whether these ex-players might be “gaming” the system.

That aside, one former player, Ralph Wenzel, 67,  is apparently the first to file a potentially precedent-setting workers’ comp claim relating to brain trauma. According to the New York Times, Wenzel’s claim (which could be worth $1 million if he is successful)  sets up a test case for determining whether the  NFL can be held liable to former players for the growing problem of post-career dementia.

Worker’s comp was set up in each state to provide benefits for on-the-job  injuries without requiring the worker to go through a personal injury lawsuit against the employer. But California workers’ compensation regulations are different, the Times reports…

Players need not have played for California teams or be residents of the state; they had to participate in just one game in the state to be eligible to receive lifetime medical care for their injuries from the teams and their insurance carriers.

Moreover, California’s statute of limitations on these claims  doesn’t begin to run until the employer (in this case, the NFL or one of its teams) formally advises the injured person of the  right to file for workers’ compensation benefits, allowing long-retired players to seek compensation for decades-old injuries or alleged injuries.

Wenzel played in the NFL from 1966 to 1973 and lives in a Maryland assisted living facility. As we have discussed in the blog previously, the NFL only relatively recently became pro-active in addressing the danger of repeated on-field concussions, including providing certain medical benefits for retirees.

Here is an informative video about the Wenzel case and football-related dementia in general:


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