How often do you represent a professional football player? For someone who does ERISA work, not often. A few years ago, I had the privilege of representing one. He played football here at a state university for two years and then entered the NFL draft. He was selected in the fifth round by the New York Giants. He later played for two other teams. ut, before his last season, he was injured at training camp.
Back then, NFL players were covered by a disability plan. Any player who incurred a “substantial disablement . . . arising out of League football activities” received a monthly line-of-duty disability benefit.
The extent of his injuries was disputed. The plan's doctors said his injuries did not amount to a “substantial disablement”, while his doctors found that they did. Suit was filed in the Northern District of Georgia but the case was transferred to the Northern District of Alabama, which is how I got involved.
Interestingly, the NFL plan had disregarded a physical therapist's report that accurately assessed his restrictions and limitations and presented a more hands-on assessment than the doctors'. The court found this report significant. It said that it could not rule on the case without the NFL plan considering the report. The court remanded the case for the NFL plan to consider that report.
ERISA claims may exist where you least expect to find them. Remember the unique provisions of ERISA govern most employer-provided benefit plans and claims under them, occasionally even those of professional athletes.