TX Court Reverses Course on Workers' Comp for NFL Players

February 13, 2008 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Reversing its previous stance, the Waco, Texas, 10th Court of Appeals held on January 30 that former Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Chad Hennings can receive workers' compensation.

Law.com reports that the court found that the 393rd District Court in Denton County did not err in finding that Hennings was eligible for benefits. A jury previously determined Hennings was disabled as a result of a compensable injury.

The appellate court found in July 2007 that Hennings’ overall contractual package of salary and medical benefits during his pro football career is higher than benefits available under workers’ compensation, rendering him ineligible for benefits according to the law, according to Law.com. In its latest opinion the court reversed itself and found workers’ compensation was a better deal for Hennings because of its longer duration.

The Texas Workers’ Compensation Act treats pro athletes as a special class and provides that a pro athlete “employed under a contract for hire or a collective bargaining agreement who is entitled to benefits for medical care and weekly benefits that are equal to or greater than the benefits provided” by workers’ compensation must make an election between the two types of benefits.

According to the news report, the appellate court opinion stated: “[T]he jury could reasonably infer that having such benefits under the Act was greater than the medical benefits he had received from his employment, while considering that he had no future medical benefits as a result of the Cowboys’ termination of the employment contract.” The court found that Hennings did not have to make an election between benefits and could receive workers’ comp in addition to his now-terminated career benefits.

In a decision that could affect all pro athletes in Texas, the appellate court also held that §406.095(a) of the workers’ comp law does not mandate “lumping together” a pro athlete’s medical benefits and salary under his or her contract “to determine whether the employment set of benefits is equal to or greater than benefits under the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act.”

Hennings filed his original workers’ compensation claim in 2001 and the Cowboys and Gulf Insurance Company have been fighting it since then.