Former Cowboys Lineman Not Entitled to Workers' Comp

July 24, 2007 ( - The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Chad Hennings, a defensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys whose career was halted by a spine injury, is not entitled to workers' compensation.

In reversing a trial court opinion, the appeals court found that “a professional athlete who accepts the benefits available under his contract or collective bargaining agreement cannot recover under our compensation law.”

Hennings played with the Cowboys for nearly a decade, until he suffered a neck injury in October 2000 that left him debilitated for the rest of the season. He underwent surgery in November of that year and it was estimated that it would take six months for him to regain “game condition.”

The Cowboys terminated Hennings’ contract in March 2001 on the grounds that his “skill or performance [had] been unsatisfactory as compared to that of other players competing for positions on the Club’s roster.” Upon termination, he received $87,500 in severance pay and $225,000 as provided by an injury protection clause of the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement. He also received $38,921.98 to cover medical expenses.

Hennings then filed for workers’ compensation, arguing that he was not required to elect the amount provided by his contract because those benefits were not equal to or greater than the lifetime medical benefits afforded by the workers’ compensation act.

The trial court agreed. Despite opposition by the Gulf Insurance Company, the trial court ruled that Hennings was “disabled as the result of a compensable injury and that the benefits available under his contract and collective bargaining agreement were not equal to or greater than the benefits available under the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act.”

Gulf Insurance appealed the decision, contending that the two benefits must be viewed side by side, not “piecemeal.”

The court appeals court agreed with Gulf Insurance: “Hennings elected (by inaction) the option which provided the “highest benefits” and that the trial court erred, as a matter of law, in determining that Hennings was eligible to receive the benefits under his contract and those provided by the Act.”

For the full opinion of the appeals court, go here . For the dissenting opinion, go here .