Just over six years after he sustained a career-ending injury while warming up for a game, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that former Washington Redskins punter Tom Tupa can receive workers compensation from the state. The ruling comes after the Redskins appealed the findings of lower courts questioning whether Maryland had jurisdiction in the matter and if injuries sustained while playing or practicing professional football are “accidental injuries” compensable under the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Act.
After sustaining his injury on August 19, 2005 and subsequently not playing a game thereafter, Tupa filed a workers’ compensation claim with the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission on March 30, 2007. The Redskins and its insurer challenged the claim on jurisdictional grounds, as they believed he should file a claim in Virginia, and by questioning whether the injury was an accidental injury. On March 14, 2008, the Commission found that it had jurisdiction over the claim and that Tupa’s injury was accidental. He was awarded temporary partial disability benefits. Thereafter, the Redskins and its insurer filed a case in circuit court. The result of that case was that a jury upheld the workers’ compensation award to Tupa. Given this, the Redskins and its insurer appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, which affirmed the jury’s decision. The Redskins and its insurer then petitioned to Maryland’s highest court, which led to the most-recent ruling.
The Maryland Court of Appeals’ finding is notable, as it means that in Maryland, injuries sustained while playing football for a living can be classified as accidental, and hence, compensable under workers’ compensation. Under a former Maryland case from 1983, Rowe v. Baltimore Colts, such was not the case. In that case, Maryland’s lower Court of Special Appeals found that accidental injuries (i.e. compensable injuries) are those “produced by some unusual and extraordinary condition or happening int he employment.” In Rowe, the court found that “. . . a professional football player is engaged in an occupation in which physical contact with others is not only expected, commonplace and usual, but is a requirement.” Thus, the court in Rowe did not award workers’ compensation to the NFL player. In the current Tupo case, the court affirmed the lower court’s overturning of Rowe. Thus, the court found that NFL players can sustain accidental injuries while playing or practicing football, which are henceforth compensable under Maryland’s workers’ compensation laws.
While the Tupo court’s ruling is arguably great news for those NFL players with contracts in Maryland, its application is arguably limited only to Maryland. Thus, NFL players in total should not consider this case a victory for their workers’ compensation rights. However, it is possible that going forward in similar cases, other courts–especially those in the same circuit as Maryland–may rely upon the Tupo court’s finding to make a similar ruling.