Ex-San Diego Padres player seeks workers’ compensation for cumulative injury

Four-time All-Star did not have ‘training or intelligence’ to recognize hazards of his profession, according to tribunal

Ex-San Diego Padres player seeks workers’ compensation for cumulative injury

A baseball player did not have the training, intelligence, and qualifications required to recognize the relationship between his disability and the known hazards of his employment, a workers’ compensation tribunal said in a recent case.

Within the period from 1986 to 2003, the applicant in the case of Vaughn vs. Colorado Rockies; Tampa Bay Rays; Ace American Insurance Company, Chubb, Greg Vaaughn, worked as a professional baseball player for the Tampa Bay Rays and for the Colorado Rockies at various locations in and out of California.

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Vaughn, who player for Milwaukee Brewers, the Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and Colorado Rockies during his career, alleged that he sustained industrial injuries to his head, neck, back, arms, shoulders, elbows, wrist, hands, fingers, legs, hips, knees, ankle, feet, and toes. He also claimed injuries to his neurological and internal systems.

Section 5405 of California’s Labor Code requires employees to file a claim within a year from the date of injury. Under section 5412, the date of injury for cumulative injury cases is the date when the employee first suffered disability and either knew or should have known that the employment caused the disability.

In April 2020, the workers’ compensation administrative law judge ruled against the applicant. The judge made the following findings:

  • The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board of California had jurisdiction because the San Diego Padres hired the applicant
  • The applicant properly pursued his claim in California
  • The limitation period in section 5405 time-barred the workers’ compensation claim
  • The applicant was engaged in a physical sport that involved repetitive batting, running, and throwing and that was widely known to cause various injuries
  • The applicant’s testimony suggested that he did not know how he could have injured himself other than by playing baseball.

The applicant filed a petition for reconsideration.

Case should be reconsidered

The panel of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board disagreed with the workers’ compensation judge’s decision. The judge should revisit the issue of whether the limitation period barred the applicant’s claim and should develop the evidentiary record so that there could be a correct legal analysis, the panel said.

The judge’s analysis was flawed because it did not refer to medical evidence proving whether and when the applicant sustained temporary or permanent disability under section 5412 that would entitle him to compensation, the panel found.

Next, the panel addressed the question of the applicant’s knowledge that his disability was job-related for the purposes of filing a cumulative trauma injury claim.

Neither the applicant’s general knowledge of the physical strains of playing professional baseball nor his testimony that he did not know how he could have injured himself other than by playing the sport necessarily meant that he had the training, intelligence, and qualifications to recognize the relationship between his disability and the known negative factors involved in his employment, the panel said.

The evidence did not clearly establish whether the applicant knew or should have known that he could pursue a cumulative trauma claim, the panel noted. The applicant testified that he did not know what a continuous trauma claim was.

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