As first reported by Mike Florio of NBC Sports’ Pro Football Talk, and later by FoxSports.com, The Orange County Register, and STLToday.com,The Rams are apparently trying to stay in St. Louis, at least in one way.
Florio reports in this story that contracts being offered to new Rams players state that the laws of Missouri, not California, control their business relationship. Language in the contracts makes clear that the Rams hope to nudge any workers’ compensation claims away from California and into Missouri by providing that “the exclusive jurisdiction for resolving Workers’ Compensation related claims shall be the Division of Workers’ Compensation of Missouri, and the Missouri Workers’ Compensation Act shall govern.”
Trying to keep workers’ compensation claims out of California, a forum that universally is regarded as more pro-employee than Missouri, is, as Florio notes, a gutsy move by the Rams. The Rams hope to impose burdens on the administrative mechanisms of the state they have now abandoned.
Kevin Demoff, the Rams’ executive vice president for football operations, attempted to brush off the criticism Sunday, telling the Los Angeles Times, “The team’s legal move to California coincides with the start of the offseason program on April 18. As such, all contracts are still subject to Missouri law at time of signing.”
However, as pointed out by the NFL Players’ Association, in a memorandum to player agents urging rejection of the contract language, the Rams have relocated to California: they have changed their name on their website to the Los Angeles Rams, are prepared to hold off-season workouts and training camp in California, and will practice and play their home games in California in 2016.
One specific reason that the Rams may prefer Missouri’s Workers’ Compensation Law is Section 287.270, of Missouri’s Revised Statutes, which provides, in part:
287.270. . . . employers of professional athletes under contract shall be entitled to full credit for wages or benefits paid to the employee after the injury including medical, surgical or hospital benefits paid to or for the employee or his dependents on account of the injury, disability, or death, pursuant to the provisions of the contract.
By allowing a dollar-for-dollar credit based on the athlete’s contract, this provision of the Missouri work comp Act effectively wipes out workers’ compensation benefits for almost any major league professional athlete, except in the most tragic circumstances. The amount of the credit includes the value of medical, surgical and hospital benefits which are incurred on account of an athlete’s injury, disability or death, and which are paid to or for the athlete or to the athlete’s dependents pursuant to the athlete’s contract with the athlete’s employer.
In a case involving the NHL‘s St. Louis Blues, and their player, Steve Dubinsky, a court ruled that this credit also applies to temporary total disability benefits. The court held that The Workers’ Compensation Law is plain and unambiguous in this regard, and its provisions on this topic are not unconstitutional, since professional athletes are neither a suspect class nor a sensitive classification. This exclusion of professional athletes, the court ruled, is not wholly arbitrary, since such athletes make a conscious decision to use their skills in an occupation involving a high risk of frequent, repetitive and serious injury: Dubinsky v. St. Louis Blues Hockey Club, 229 S.W.3d 126 (Mo. App. E. D. 2007).