ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Longtime-NFL punter Tom Tupa is eligible for workers compensation for a career-ending back injury he suffered while warming up for a preseason game in 2005 at FedEx Field while playing for the Washington Redskins, Maryland's highest court ruled on Wednesday. The court rejected the idea that football injuries should not be considered accidental because of the rough nature of the sport.
Tupa's injury happened "out of and in the course of (his) employment," the Maryland Court of Appeals said in its 16-page opinion.
"He was warming up for a game when he landed awkwardly and thereafter sought immediate medical treatment," Judge John Eldridge wrote in the opinion. "Ample evidence was presented to show that Tupa suffered a compensable accidental injury during the course of his employment."
The team and insurers argued that Tupa's injury was not an accidental personal injury within the meaning of Maryland's workers' compensation law.
The court rejected that argument.
"I don't think that clubs are now able to argue that, since football is a hazardous employment, players don't get workers' compensation benefits," said Benjamin Boscolo, Tupa's attorney.
The 46-year-old Tupa played 18 seasons in the NFL for seven teams from 1988 to 2005. He never played again after the injury, which happened in Landover, Md.
The team and insurers argued that the Maryland Workers' Compensation Commission did not have jurisdiction over Tupa's claim, because he was contractually bound to bring it in Virginia, where the Redskins are headquartered. The court, however, cited case law that found Maryland's workers' compensation law can apply to an employee's claim, despite language in a contract saying otherwise.
An NFL spokesman says the league hasn't seen the lawsuit and couldn't comment. A portion of the collective bargaining agreement does deal specifically with the filing of worker's compensation claims.
Tupa fell down after a punt during warm-ups and felt a sharp pain in his lower back at a pre-season game on Aug. 19, 2005. He described the pain as a "jarring" sensation, sought immediate medical attention and received medication, according to court documents.
Tupa filed for benefits because of his back injury in May 2006 with the Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission, a claim he later withdrew.
He filed with the Maryland Workers' Compensation Commission in March 2007. The team and its insurer challenged Tupa's claim on the issues of jurisdiction, whether the injury was an accidental and whether his disability was related to the injury in August 2005.
In 2008, the Maryland Workers' Compensation Commission held a hearing on the contested claim, and it decided in March that year that it could exercise jurisdiction over Tupa's claim. Tupa was awarded temporary partial disability benefits and medical expenses. The team and its insurer then went to court and requested a trial by jury, which decided Tupa had sustained an accidental injury and that his disability was connected to the accidental on-field injury.
The jury's decision was appealed to the state's intermediate appellate court, which agreed with the commission and the jury's finding.