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Insurer sues Broncos over former players' compensation claims
Just when I thought I've heard about every creative compensatory scheme, I find this is an amazing story. Is there any doubt why California's piggy bank is empty?
By John Ingold
The Denver Post
Posted: 06/13/2011 01:00:00 AM MDTUpdated: 06/13/2011 10:04:32 AM MDT
NFL Hall of Famer and Denver Bronco Floyd Little was at a news conference at Denver Broncos headquarters at Dove Valley in September 2010. (THE DENVER POST file | ANDY CROSS)When Floyd Little retired from his Hall of Fame career with the Denver Broncos, he did so with 117 games played, 6,323 yards rushing, 54 touchdowns scored — and a lifetime of aches ahead.
So in 2008, Little took advantage of a not commonly known provision in California law to file for workers' compensation in that state, arguing that his football career had left him with a legacy of pain after suffering two broken collarbones, broken ribs, multiple concussions and other injuries too numerous to recall.
"Your memory isn't what it used to be," Little said. "You don't sleep as well as you should. I still suffer from the injuries during my career."
Now his claim, along with claims by eight other retired Broncos players, has become entangled in a federal lawsuit by an insurance company that says it shouldn't have to pay.
The suit was filed last week in U.S. District Court in Denver, and it came as news to Little, who said he hadn't been served with the case.
"I know there was a misunderstanding between who had coverage, whether it was the Broncos or the insurance company," Little said. "Neither was claiming responsibility for having coverage."
California law is unique in that it allows for professional athletes to file workers' compensation claims in the state even if they never played for California-based teams. All that is required is to have played at least one professional game in the state.
Using that provision, thousands of former professional athletes have quietly filed claims in California. Football players are the most prominent group. A New York Times investigation last year found about 700 pending cases involving former National Football League players, along with hundreds more that had been settled.
Former professional basketball and baseball players also have filed for compensation.
It is unclear how many retired Broncos players have filed claims, but the list of those who have includes some of the franchise's biggest stars, including Craig Morton , Terrell Davis , Gary Zimmerman and Karl Mecklenburg , according to California state records.
The lawsuit names the Broncos organization as a defendant along with nine former Broncos players who have pending claims: Little, Edwin Smith, John Rowser, Louie Wright, Godwin Turk, Barney Chavous , Mike Schnitker, Billy Van Heusen and Randy Gradishar .
The suit doesn't accuse the players of wrongdoing. Instead, it argues that the Broncos organization is incorrectly trying to get the insurance company — St. Paul Fire and Marine, part of the Travelers insurance company — to cover the nine claims.
The company says the policies it sold the Broncos covered only claims in New Mexico and didn't apply to football players. St. Paul Fire and Marine is hoping the suit will prompt a federal judge to declare the company doesn't have to pay.
Carolyn Fairless, a Denver attorney representing the insurance company, declined to comment on the lawsuit. Broncos spokesman Patrick Smyth declined to discuss it as well.
"We are aware of the matter, and it is being handled by our legal counsel," Smyth said.
Little, meanwhile, is left to wonder when his claim will be resolved. Three years after Little filed, California records currently list his claim in inactive status.
"I haven't heard anything in quite a while," Little said.