Former Redskin Tom Tupa wins workers' compensation case

Former Washington Redskins punter Tom Tupa is entitled to workers' compensation benefits in Maryland for a 2005 injury suffered during pregame warm-ups that ended his career, Maryland's highest court ruled Wednesday.

In its unanimous ruling for Tupa, the Court of Appeals set aside contentions by the attorneys for the team and its insurer.

The court ruled that Tupa's fall at FedEx Field in Landover is the kind of injury that merits workers' compensation. It also said that Tupa cannot be limited to seeking benefits only in Virginia, where the team is based, because Maryland law doesn't allow that.

"For Tupa, it means lifetime medical care. It means surgery if and when he gets to a place where he can't function in his state of health," said Benjamin T. Boscolo, Tupa's attorney. He said other disability benefits Tupa will be entitled to seek in the future, depending on his health, "will be modest compared to the potential value of the medical coverage."

In addition, he said, Maryland law bans agreements in which an employee's rights are waived for coverage under state workers' compensation law, with few exceptions. Forum-selection clauses, like Tupa's with the Redskins, don't fall among the exceptions.

A Redskins spokesman declined to comment on the ruling. The lawyer who argued the team's case, David O. Godwin Jr., could not be reached Wednesday.

The dispute over whether injured players can seek workers' compensation benefits only in the team's home state is a long-standing one in professional sports, especially football. Workers' compensation rules and benefits vary widely among states.

Writing for the court, retired Judge John C. Eldridge said that Tupa suffered an accidental work-related injury when he "landed awkwardly." Because football is a rough game with a risk of injury, Eldridge cited an expert law treatise on workers' compensation that likened not covering a sports injury like Tupa's to not covering coal miners when they go into a mine because it's dangerous work.

A second workers' compensation case involving a former Redskins player — with the same attorneys for both sides — is awaiting a ruling from the Court of Appeals. Former wide receiver Darnerien McCants, a Gambrills native, is seeking workers' compensation benefits in Maryland for injuries not sustained in the state. Boscolo argued that with the Redskins' playing their home games in Maryland, most of McCants' games were on Maryland turf.

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