Entertainment & Sports Law

Now Practicing Law, 2 Ex-NFL Players Have Won Some $100M in Football-Related Worker's Comp Awards

An unusually liberal worker’s compensation system in California, as far as professional athletes are concerned, made the New York Times this week when the wife of former National Football League player Ralph Wenzel filed an apparently unique test case over early-onset dementia that she contends is related to her 67-year-old husband’s pro career.

Now, in a lengthy follow-up article, the New York Times is profiling two other ex-NFL players, Ron Mix and Mel Owens, who have benefited from the state’s worker’s comp system in another way: The two attorneys have probably racked up some $100 million in awards for the 1,000 or more former pro football players they have represented in more standard-issue worker’s comp claims over alleged orthopedic injuries.

California permits such claims to be made over a single game, the newspaper reports. Nonetheless, what might strike some observers as a windfall is tempered by the human tendency to opt for a large sum now rather than put money away for a rainy day. Although many players can expect to need significant medical care as they age, they not infrequently accept worker’s comp settlements that provide a lump sum of $60,000 to $160,000 in exchange for giving up their right to medical coverage for on-the-field injuries, the Times recounts.

“What I think is wise versus what he thinks is wise is irrelevant,” Owens, who is a partner of Namanny Byrne & Owens in Laguna Hills, Calif., tells the Times concerning a hypothetical client opting for a lump sum in lieu of medical coverage. “Because he thinks he’s making a good decision. Might be.”

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