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Safety in the NFL: Injured Referees
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Safety in the NFL: Injured Referees

With all the attention on the inherent risks of injury for professional football players, we tend to overlook the risks to the people charged with controlling mayhem on the field: referees work in an environment where huge athletes run at full speed, blast into opponents and, occasionally, knock down an official. During a kick off return in Denver this past Sunday, line judge Gary Arthur was run over by a Baltimore Raven. He suffered nine (!) broken ribs and a collapsed lung. He remains hospitalized. We note in passing that the player had the benefit of protective gear - helmet, shoulder pads, hip pads, etc. - Mr. Arthur's work clothes offered no protection whatsoever.

The incident raises the standard questions about workers compensation: is Arthur an employee of the NFL? Is he covered by workers' comp? Is comp the "exclusive remedy" for his injuries? Finally, how will the indemnity be calculated?

Referees are part-time employees of the NFL. As such, they are covered by workers comp and comp is the exclusive remedy for work-related injuries. As part of a traveling crew, Arthur may have the option of filing under Colorado law or under the comp law in his home state. The average annual salary for NFL referees is $173,000; in addition, most referees have other jobs, ranging from attorney to insurance broker, probation officer, teacher and entrepreneur. In calculating the indemnity benefit, Arthur will max out any available indemnity based upon his NFL salary alone; if, as is likely, he is disabled from his regular job, he will not receive any additional lost wage benefit.

As we have noted in prior blogs, the NFL is not exactly what the founders of workers comp had in mind: the game is too violent, the risks too pervasive and the long-term health risks far greater than those anticipated in most occupations. While the safety risks for referees might fall within the parameters of "normal" employment, the injuries to Mr. Arthur illustrate that exposure to violence on the field is not limited to the players.

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