A former professional football player, who sued the New Orleans Saints for worker’s compensation after he was injured, has lost in his bid to get a court to overturn an award in favor of a higher amount.
John Farquhar was a professional football player for the Saints from September 1997 until August 1999. He signed with the Saints after the third game of the 1997 season. Farquhar remained on the active roster throughout the 1998 season. He then signed a one year contract with the Saints May 31, 1999, which paid him an annual salary of $429,000.
On August 1, 1999, Farquhar suffered a career-ending injury to his right knee during training camp. He reported this injury to the trainer and received medical treatment. Farquhar was placed on the Reserve/Injured list September 5, 1999 for 97 days. He was never placed on the Active Roster for the Saints for the 1999 season. His contract was then cancelled and he did not play any games that season. However, the Saints did pay Farquhar his entire contract amount of $429,000.00, plus severance.
On January 31, 2000, Farquhar filed a disputed claim for compensation against the New Orleans Saints alleging no wage benefits had been paid, no medical treatment had been authorized, he had not been granted his choice of physicians, and he was disabled. He also sought penalties and attorney fees. Farquhar claimed his average weekly wage was $8,250.00 for a workers’ compensation rate of $367.00.
The Saints filed an answer to Farquhar’s disputed claim for compensation on May 30, 2000 and then filed a motion for summary judgment on January 8, 2001. In the motion, the Saints argued that it had paid all medical expenses and had paid him his full salary for 1999 and a severance. Therefore, the Saints sought rights to a credit or offset against any obligation for supplemental earnings benefits due to these payments. The workers’ compensation court denied the motion for summary judgment September 27, 2001.
Farquhar then filed a motion seeking to have La. R.S. 23:1225(D) declared unconstitutional and to have his claim transferred to the Orleans Parish Civil District Court. Farquhar also filed an amended disputed claim for compensation on September 28, 2001 alleging the unconstitutionality of La. 23:1225(D). He questioned the portion of the statute that provided that workers’ compensation benefits payable to a professional athlete shall be reduced or offset on a dollar-for-dollar basis, if the athlete receives payment from any of the following: any wages or benefits, a collective bargaining agreement, a contract of hire, severance pay, injured reserve pay, termination pay, grievance or settlement pay, workers’ compensation benefits, or any other payment pursuant to a contract or agreement.
Farquhar filed a motion for summary judgment April 6, 2004, claiming he was owed indemnity payments, supplemental earnings benefits, and medical expenses. On April 7, 2005, the workers’ compensation court denied Farquhar’s motion for summary judgment finding disputed issues of material fact. The Saints then filed as amended answer on January 26, 2007, asserting its right to reduce benefits as provided for in La. R.S. 23:1206.
A trial was held on October 9, 2007. Post-trial memos were prepared for the court. In his memo, Farquhar claimed he was owed $384 per week for August 1, 1999 through December 31, 2006 and continued payments. He argued his average weekly wage, and benefits, should be based on the maximum compensation rate because he received his entire salary of $429,000 for the year 1999. He also argued he was owed penalties and attorney fees because of the late payment of indemnity benefits under the 2006 Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.
The Saints argued that Farquhar’s contract, signed in May 1999, did not take effect because his injury occurred prior to the beginning of the 1999 season and he was then placed on the injured reserve list. Therefore, the Saints argued it was immaterial that he was paid his entire contract price for 1999, because he was never on the active roster for 1999.
The workers’ compensation court issued a judgment on May 13, 2008, addressing Farquhar’s average weekly wage, his entitlement to benefits, and his entitlement to attorney’s fees and penalties. In determining his average weekly wage and his entitlement to benefits, the court applied the calculation methods it used in Hughes v. New Orleans Saints & LWCC, 05-712 (La.App. 5 Cir. 2/27/06) 924 So.2d 1086.
The workers’ compensation court agreed with the Saints and found the fact that Farquhar had been paid his entire 1999 contract amount was immaterial to the determination of benefits. The court found that he had performed services for only 97 days, or 13.857 weeks, and earned $9,302.93 during that time. He earned $5,237.19 for pre-season training camp, workout pay of $3,360, and mini-camp pay of $685.74. The court found his average weekly wage to be $671.35, representing total earnings of $9,302.93 divided by the 13.857 weeks he worked in 1999.
The workers’ compensation court then addressed Farquhar’s entitlement to supplemental earnings benefits on the $671.35 average weekly wage. The court found that he would have been entitled to $367.35 per week in supplemental earnings benefits. The court then applied La. R.S. 23:1221(3)(d)(i) and found that his entitlement to supplemental earnings benefits would have ended July 31, 2002. The court added that, based on his monthly reports of earnings, his earnings exceeded 90 percent of his pre-accident earnings beginning August 1, 2002. Therefore, his entitlement to supplemental earnings benefits began after his injury, August 1, 1999, and terminated July 31, 2002. The trial court found he failed to establish a continued right to supplemental earnings benefits beyond that date. Further, the workers’ compensation court found an award of penalties or attorney’s fees to Farquhar was inappropriate.
Farquhar appealed the judgment, arguing four assignments of error. First, he argued his average weekly wage was not correctly calculated because it was only based on a limited amount of his pre-injury wages and not a true earning capacity of an NFL football player. Second, he argued the court erred by limiting his supplemental earnings benefits by applying the incorrect calculation of the average weekly wage and then applying the two year time limitation under La. R.S. 23:1221(3)(d)(i). Third, he argued the court failed to apply a correct interest calculation by awarding interest from the date of the court order as opposed to the date that compensation was actually due. Finally, he argued the court miscalculated the supplemental earnings benefits due in August 2001.
The court began its discussion by noting that it may not overturn a judgment of the workers’ compensation judge absent an error of law or a factual finding, which is manifestly erroneous or clearly wrong. Newsome v. New Orleans Saints, supra, citing Hughes v. New Orleans Saints & LWCC, 05-712 (La.App. 5 Cir. 2/27/06), 924 So.2d 1086.
“Based on Hughes and Newsome, we find the workers’ compensation court correctly calculated Farquhar’s average weekly wage based on the amount he actually earned prior to his injury, and not on his contract amount,” the court wrote. “We also agree with the trial court and find the fact that the Saints ultimately paid Farquhar his entire contract amount plus severance is immaterial. For purposes of calculating average weekly wage for workers’ compensation, we must use his actual earnings of $9,302.93 for his 13.857 weeks of preseason involvement with the team before he was released. Therefore, the trial court correctly determined Farquhar’s average weekly wage to be 671.35, based on the $9,302.93 salary earned over 13.857 weeks.”
The court also agreed with the workers’ compensation court’s decision regarding Farquhar’s entitlement to supplemental earnings benefits, pursuant to La. R.S. 1221.
“We also agree with the workers’ compensation court and find Farquhar is not entitled to attorney’s fees and penalties,” wrote the panel. “The defendants had a valid defense to the claims of Farquhar and were ultimately successful in convincing the workers’ compensation court that Farquhar’s average weekly wage must be based on his actual earnings and not his total contract amount.”
Lastly, the panel held that Farquhar “should not be entitled to interest for the period of time the matter was stayed.”
Farquhar v. New Orleans Saints; L.A. 5th Cir.; No. 08-CA-800, 2009 WL 1463422; 5/26/09