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Free Agent at Mini-Camp not an “Employee” of Seahawks

Posted Monday, June 9, 2014 by Christopher L. Thayer

In a recent decision by the Washington Court of Appeals (Division 1), the Court addressed whether a free agent attending a mini-camp tryout could received Workman’s Compensation benefits if they were injured during camp.  In Robinson v. Football Northwest (No. 69739-1-1), Courtney Robinson was attending a Seahawk mini-camp in 2010 and suffered a knee injury.  He sought Workman’s Compensation benefits under Washington’s Industrial Insurance Act for his injuries and medical treatment.

Courtney Robinson was a defensive back and kick returner for the University of Massachusetts and eligible for the 2009 draft.  He was not drafted but signed a free agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, who eventually cut him before the season started.  He tried out with other NFL teams in 2009, but went unsigned.  In 2010, he hired an agent and approached a number of teams, including the Seahawks, in an effort to get a tryout and a chance at a free agent contract.  In April of 2010, he was invited to a mini-camp hosted by the Seahawks.  He was not compensated, but the team did make travel arrangements to fly him from Connecticut to Seattle and provided an itinerary for the 3 day camp.  Mini-camps are voluntary workouts, which even players under contract are not required to attend.  Robinson was required to sign a “Free Agent Tryout Waiver and Release of Liability” which acknowledged that he was “not an employee of the Seattle Seahawks”.  On the first day of camp, Robinson ran out to catch a pass thrown by coach Pete Carroll.  In the process, he tangled up his feet as he was back pedaling and injured his knee.  He filed an application for benefits with the Washington Department of Labor and Industries but was denied after an administrative hearing.

Washington’s Industrial Insurance Act provides benefits for employees injured on the job, but only where an employment relationship exists.  In determining whether there is an employment relationship, the Court of Appeals noted that one must evaluate: (1) whether the employer has the right to control the employee’s physical conduct in the performance of their duties; and (2) whether there was mutual consent to the employment relationship.  Robinson conceded that he did not have an express contractual relationship with the Seahawks, but argued that he had an implied employment relationship due to “the high degree of control the Seahawks exercised over him during minicamp tryout” and payment of his travel, hotel and meal expenses. The Court of Appeals noted that participation in the minicamp was voluntary and that successful completion of mini-camp did not guarantee employment with the Seahawks.  Moreover, the Seahawks did not have authority to discharge or discipline Robinson (as compared to those players who were under contract that were subject mandatory rules and discipline). 

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals concluded that there was substantial evidence to support the denial of the claim, noting that the evidence supported a conclusion that Robinson knew an employment relationship with an NFL team did not exist unless and until the team made an offer and the parties executed a standard NFL player contract.

This case reveals a side of professional sports that rarely makes the headlines: the risk of serious injury to those who have not yet even made the team.  At Pivotal Law Group, PLLC, we do not handle Workman’s Compensation claims, but we do assist clients who have been injured due to the negligence of another.  It is not uncommon for someone to be injured on the job where the actual cause of the injury is due to the fault of someone other than the employer.  In such cases, in addition to a possible Workman’s Compensation claim, the person may also have a civil claim against the third party. 

We are happy to assist with such claims, and are also happy to refer anyone with a Workman’s Compensation claim to an attorney we trust and recommend. For more information, please contact Christopher Thayer at 206-805-1494.

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