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Judge: NFL should be restricted in workers' comp cases

NEW YORK -- A New York judge says the NFL must be limited in how much money it can recover when injured NFL players receive state workers' compensation awards.

Judge Paul Crotty wrote in a decision Friday that the NFL sometimes wants to recover more money than it is entitled to receive to offset its salary and benefits expenses for injured players.

The NFL Players Association says the ruling protects a significant benefit for former players.

Jeffrey Kessler, an attorney with the players association, said NFL teams had been going to court in various states and arguing they could deduct any salary benefits they paid to players after the injury. He said the league considered an earlier ruling by Crotty to apply only to the individual players named in the lawsuit rather than everyone in similar circumstances.

"Retired players frequently have very severe injuries," Kessler said. "It's very significant to the retired players."

Kessler said it could ultimately involve tens of millions of dollars paid out to hundreds of former players.

The NFL argues the ruling only pertains to the proper calculation of workers compensation benefits for players who also receive injury protection payments.

"The federal court decision ... concerned only the question of the proper calculation of workers compensation benefits received by NFL players who also have received from their clubs injury protection payments under the recently expired CBA," league spokesman Greg Aiello said in an email to The Associated Press. "The court ruled that a prior arbitration decision on how such offsets should be calculated under the NFL player contract should be enforced. The NFL clubs have fully abided by that decision.

"... there was no finding by the federal court of any 'unlawful' conduct or any finding that an NFL club has failed to pay workers compensation benefits due to players under state law."

The issue has been a point of contention in collective bargaining agreement negotiations between players and the NFL. The league locked out the players on March 11 after the NFLPA dissolved as a union and 10 players filed for an injunction to block the lockout.

The NFLPA filed a grievance on May 17, 2005 against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets on behalf of two injured players, Steve Harvey and David Alexander. The Bills and Jets claimed offsets for the entire amount of workers' compensation benefits they paid to Harvey and Alexander.

Four months later, the NFLPA brought a similar grievance against the Carolina Panthers on behalf of players Charles Smith, Dusty Renfro, Michael Swift and Jason Peter.

Again, the NFLPA argued the Panthers' dollar-for-dollar claim was inappropriate and that they were entitled only to recoup a much smaller amount according to a formula spelled out in the contract that calculates how much of the season each player was injured.

In February 2007, an arbitrator ruled in favor of the NFLPA, and a federal court in Manhattan confirmed the arbitrator's award a year later. The NFL Management Council opposed the confirmation, asking the court to conclude it didn't have jurisdiction.

But Crotty confirmed the award Friday, and rejected the NFL request for dollar-for-dollar compensation.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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