California Court of Appeals Holds Cumulative Injuries within the State Provide Legitimate Relationship to Invoke Worker’s Compensation Laws

In a recent opinion, the California Court of Appeals determined the state had a legitimate interest in a work-related injury suffered by an employee of a California corporation. A former basketball player suffered injuries while playing for a California team and then intermittently playing in the state while employed by other teams.   The issue before the court was whether the state had a sufficient relationship with the player’s injuries to make the application of California’s workers’ compensation laws reasonable.

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The petitioner, the New York Knicks, is a professional basketball team in the National Basketball Association. They filed a petition for a writ of review against the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (Board), the Los Angeles Clippers, the Atlanta Hawks, the Insurance Company of North America, and Durand Macklin. The NBA challenged the jurisdiction of the Board concerning a claim for accumulated injuries by Mr. Macklin, a former NBA basketball player from 1981-1984.

Mr. Macklin allegedly suffered cumulative trauma injury from his work as a professional basketball player for multiple NBA teams. The period of trauma ran for four years, and Mr. Macklin played for the Atlanta Hawks, the Albany Patroons, and the Los Angeles Clippers over the course of this period.

As an Atlanta Hawks member, Mr. Macklin played three games in California, and when his team traveled out of state, he arrived one day prior to the game. In certain games within California, he did not play but participated in practices and warm-ups before the games. Later, Mr. Macklin contracted with the Los Angeles Clippers, and he attended training camp in California, also playing in pre-season games.

Mr. Macklin received treatment for his back and other body parts. He alleged that the intense workouts led to stress and body strains. He also reported physical ailments such as dehydration and lower back pain.

Procedurally, the Workers’ Compensation Judge held that subject matter jurisdiction existed for Mr. Macklin’s cumulative trauma claim because some of the trauma occurred within California.   The Workers’ Compensation Judge also held that there was personal jurisdiction over the three NBA defendants, since each defendant engaged in basketball business activity within the state of California. Mr. Macklin’s employment as a basketball player was determined to have led to lower back injuries, as well as injuries elsewhere. He was held to be 76 percent permanently disabled, with no apportionment of the cause of injury with other nonindustrial reasons.

The Knicks alleged there was no subject matter jurisdiction because there was an insufficient relationship between California and the injuries suffered. They also alleged California workers’ compensation law should not apply due to a lack of a legitimate interest in the matter.

On appeal, the Board affirmed the Workers’ Compensation Judge’s ruling and concluded that the effect of Mr. Macklin’s work in the state while employed by a California employer, combined with the effect of his work in California while employed by other employers, made more than a de minimis connection between the injury and the state. Due process had not been denied by granting subject matter jurisdiction over the Knicks because the state had a legitimate interest in apportioning liability among Mr. Macklin’s employers during the cumulative injury exposure period.

The California Court of Appeal, in reviewing the Board’s findings, stated that they are not subject to review if they are supported by substantial evidence. Turning to the due process issue of whether California has a legitimate interest regarding Mr. Macklin’s injuries, the appellate court stated that there are various factors to consider.  First, Mr. Macklin played for a California team for a segment of the period of the cumulative injury.   Another factor is that Mr. Macklin played in seven games and additional practices within the state.   The court stated that being employed by a California team during the period of the cumulative injury makes it reasonable to apply the California workers’ compensation law.

The court distinguished a case in which a basketball player’s injuries did not have a sufficient relationship with California to apply the state workers’ compensation laws. There, the player played in a single basketball game, and this did not create a legitimate interest in the injuries. Instead, the effect of the game on the injury was de minimis.

The New York Knicks contended that Mr. Macklin played for a California team, after playing for their team, and this should not provide jurisdiction over his claim against them. The court dismissed this allegation, turning to the Labor Code provision that when dealing with cumulative injuries, liability is limited to the employers of one year prior to the date of the injury, or the exposure to the hazards of the cumulative injury. Here, Mr. Macklin worked for the Knicks during the part of the critical year during which he incurred his injuries, and this section of the Labor Code therefore applied, making the Knicks liable.

The court affirmed the award of the Appeals Board. They remanded the case in order to award Mr. Macklin attorney fees.

At Sharifi Firm, we help victims of workplace accidents seek the compensation they deserve for their work-related injuries. Our office offers a free consultation and can be reached at 866-422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Court of Appeals Holds that Denial of Right to Cross-Examine Plaintiff Deprived Defendant of Right to Fair Trial in Workers’ Compensation Case, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, July 27, 2015

California Court of Appeal Rejects Injured Employee’s Attempt to Rebut Her Designated Disability Score, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, September 4, 2015

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