Last Saturday night, in one of the highest grossing boxing matches in history, Floyd Mayweather defeated Manny Pacquiao at the MGM Grand Las Vegas, maintaining his perfect 0 – 48 record and securing the title of welterweight champion of the world. There’s no question the fighters were well compensated, however, the question around the Coffee Mate this morning is – do professional boxers have a viable workman’s comp claim for injuries sustained in the ring?
With the National Football League now writing a fleet of checks to injured players, these massive pay-outs from workmans comp cases have changed the landscape of sports injury claims. Traditional views were the players knew the hazardous nature of the game, and bravely battled knowing they may sustain injuries. Yet some were unable to recover from their injuries, especially if those injuries left them fighting debilitating conditions of the brain, altering their lives forever.
In the NFL, fundamental changes in how the game is played have sought to limit the chances of injury to the head and neck. They’ve acknowledged the inherent danger in the sport, and made adjustments to protect themselves from future claims. However, in the world of boxing it appears that a head injury, even a fatal one, may not be covered by work-comp law.
In a landmark 1997 ruling in Albany, NY the state court decided that boxers are ineligible to file workman’s comp claims. New York State law prohibits compensation for any injury caused by the “willful intention of the injured employee to bring about the injury or death of himself or another.” The decision invalidated a $3,880 workers’ compensation award made in 1994 to the estate of John Gross and a $29,040 death benefit award made to his parents, who were dependent on Gross.
Gross, a 23-year-old super middleweight from Syracuse, suffered fatal head injuries during a May 1989 bout at the Three Rivers Inn in Phoenix, about 20 miles north of Syracuse.
With persistent pummeling part and parcel of the pugilist package, the future of workman’s comp and the sport of boxing is unclear. The ruling in New York showed that boxing is dangerous, but injuries sustained are received so willingly, therefore not grounds for a workman’s comp claim – the tradewinds blowing off the recent payouts from the NFL may change the direction of future rulings, and the lives of injured boxers.
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