New Case Update-Washington Redskin Tom Tupa - Maryland Jurisdiction and a Closer Look at Compensability for Inherently Dangerous


Pro-Football, Inc. v. Tupa, 2012 Md. LEXIS 475 (Md. Aug. 22, 2012)

This case involved former Washington Redskins kicker Thomas Tupa, who injured himself while warming up for a pre-season game. There were two issues before the Court of Appeals of Maryland: 1.) Whether the Maryland Workers' Compensation Commission (WCC) should have exercised jurisdiction over the case despite a clause in the employment agreement noting such cases should be governed by Virginia law; and 2.) Whether injuries occurring while practicing and/or playing professional football are accidental injuries and thus compensable. The Court found that the Maryland WCC correctly exercised jurisdiction and that injuries sustained during professional football activities were compensable.

Tupa had an employment contract with Pro-Football, Inc, or the Washington Redskins. The contract provided that the contract shall for all purposes be deemed to have been negotiated and executed in Virginia. Also, any claims arising for workers' compensation benefits should be filed with the Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission.

In January 2005, Thomas Tupa complained of mild lower back pain. He was diagnosed with significant underlying spondylosis and stenosis. In August 2005, while warming up for a pre-season game at FedEx Field, he landed awkwardly after a punt and felt sharp pain in his lower back. He sought immediate medical attention. The medical opinions were divided as to whether this incident actually caused an injury or whether it caused an already-existing condition to manifest.

Tupa initially filed a claim with the Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission, in May 2006, but subsequently withdrew the claim. In March 2007, he filed a claim with the Maryland WCC. At a hearing, the WCC found that Tupa had sustained an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of his employment and that his disability was causally related to the accidental injury. This decision was appealed by the Employer and Insurer and the Circuit Court affirmed, finding that the Maryland WCC did have jurisdiction.

The Circuit Court's affirmation was appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, who also affirmed the finding of the Commission and the Circuit Court. An appeal was taken to the Court of Appeals on the issues as stated above. The Court found that agreements such as the employment contract involved here, could not stand where they sought to exempt the Employer and Insurer from providing workers' compensation benefits which are otherwise due under the Maryland statute. The Court further reasoned that an express agreement such as the one here is “ineffective to enlarge the applicability of that state's statute or to diminish the applicability of the statute of another state.” The provision requiring all workers' compensation claims to be filed in Virginia was not allowed to stand as valid.

On the issue of accidental injuries in professional football, the Court looked to the previous requirement that to be accidental, an injury must result from some unusual strain, exertion or condition in employment. This standard, the Court stated, adds a requirement not contained in the statutory language. Instead, the Court stated that what must be unexpected, unintended, or unusual is the resulting injury and not the activity out of which the injury arises. To deny professional football players workers' compensation benefits because their jobs are inherently dangerous, would be to deny a class of covered employees benefits for performing the job for which they were hired. Therefore, the injury sustained by Tupa was held to be compensable.