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Injured in Pennsylvania means workers' comp here, says Appeal Board

On Aug. 20, 2005, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kendall Newson was playing here in Pittsburgh when, in the third quarter, he caught a ball that was punted to him. A defender was right in front of him, ready to tackle, so he moved to the right, took a few steps, and planted his foot to head left.

His foot caught in the turf, and he tore the ACL/MCL in his right knee and had to be carried from the field. Since that injury, he has had six surgeries and his career in the NFL was over. His workers' compensation claim, however, was not.

Newson had sought reimbursement for his medical expenses and for full disability benefits through the Pennsylvania workers' comp system, but a dispute arose regarding a collective bargaining agreement between the Dolphins' owners and players, which governed the processing of workers' comp claims. The agreement said that his claim should have been handled through the Florida workers' comp system.

This was confusing because professional athletes are specifically excluded from coverage under Florida workers' compensation law. The only access to benefits for NFL players in Florida was through their collective bargaining agreements. While other Florida teams had agreed to provide benefits reflecting those available in the Florida system, the Dolphins had not. Instead, the Dolphins set up an arbitration system for their players' injury claims, and Newson hadn't gone through the required arbitration.

There was some additional litigation, but a Pennsylvania workers' comp judge ruled that, while Newson certainly could have filed in Florida through the team's arbitration process, he was not required to do so. Since his injury occurred in Pennsylvania, the plain language of the statute gave Pennsylvania jurisdiction over his claim regardless of the collective bargaining agreement.

The Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Appeal Board affirmed. The injury occurred here, so the workers' comp claim could be handled here. There was nothing in the collective bargaining agreement to prohibit Newson from filing his claim in the state where he was injured, and the court found that Pennsylvania plainly had jurisdiction over his claim -- a fact that cannot easily be altered by a private agreement.

Hopefully, Newson will now be provided with the compensation and benefits he needs to move forward.

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