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Editor: Mitchell H. Rubinstein
New York Law School

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Injured Ex-Cowboy, Chad Hennings, Not Entitled to Workers Compenation Benefits

In  Gulf Insurance Co. v. Hennings (Texas App. Dist. 2007), a Texas state appellate court, in a case of first impression, held that a former Dallas Cowboy ,who unquestionably was injured while playing, was not entitled to Workers Compensation benefits. This decision was based upon a provision in the Texas Workers Compensation statute which provides:

A professional 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 under this subtitle may not receive benefits under this subtitle and the equivalent benefits under the contract or collective bargaining agreement. An athlete covered by such a contract or agreement who sustains an injury in the course and scope of the athlete's employment shall elect to receive either the benefits available under this subtitle or the benefits under the contract or agreement.

After Chad Hennings, who was a defensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys, was terminated he accepted benefits under the collective bargaining agreement which amounted to approximately $87, 000 in severance pay and $225,000 under an injury protection clause.

Hennings argued unsuccessfully that because his medical benefits were limited by his contract to the term of [his] contract as the Club physician may deem necessary, the medical benefits provided by the contract were not equal to or greater than medical benefits as a matter of law. The majority, however, viewed this simply as an election of remedies type of case, reasoning:

  Hennings received $225,000 in "injury protection benefits" and medical expenses of $38,921.98 by virtue of his contract with the Dallas Cowboys and a collective bargaining agreement under the National Football League. Having received those benefits, he cannot now recover workers' compensation benefits as well.

This decision generated a dissent which would have allowed Hennings to collect because the contract was of limited duration.

Unfortunately, both the majority and dissenting opinion are very poorly written and reasoned. It is surprising that the court, which afterall was an appellate court, did not detail its reasoning, particularly since it acknowledged that a question of first impression was involved. 

In a July 23, 2007, Texas Lawyer article about this case (available here), Hennings vows to appeal. 

I do not know enough about Workers Compensation benefits to know whether this type of statute is unique to Texas law. What I do know is that every state has a Workers Compensation statute and the whole purpose of Workers Compensation is to eliminate a tort suit against employers in exchange for an administrative process which allocates benefits. If Hennings is not covered by Workers Compensation, he normally could sue his employer in tort.

However, my guess is that since there is some type of injury benefits clause under the NFL-Players collective bargaining agreement, he might not be able to sue since the terms and conditions of his employment are subject to the collective bargaining agreement. Because those benefits were not that high, Hennings was seeking Workers Compensation.   

Mitchell H. Rubinstein

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