A football player for the Grand Rapids Rampage may not be entitled to wage loss benefits beyond his regular football season. This article discusses the nuance between wage-loss that is due to a work related injury and wage-loss that is due to some other circumstance, such as the end of a football season. We will see that there are instances where an employee may suffer an injury at work, but not be entitled to wage loss benefits. It is important to remember that Michigan is a "wage-loss" state, meaning that an injured worker must not only demonstrate a work injury, but also must demonstrate that the work injury has damaged, or has led to, his or her loss of earning capacity. We will see that if the wage loss is occasioned by some other cause, then wage-loss benefits will not necessarily follow.
The football player sustained injuries to his foot, right knee and right ankle. After trial the magistrate awarded weekly wage loss benefits that extended beyond the regular season. The defendant-employer argued the the football player - plaintiff sustained no loss of wage-earning capacity or wages in the off season and so cannot receive wage-loss benefits for the time he was not employed during the off season.
The controlling statute for this issue is Section 301(4) of the Michigan's Workers Disability Compensation Act. The act states, "The establishment of a disability does not create a presumption of wage loss."
The Court's have pointed out that even if the employee establishes a disability, he must further prove a wage loss because wage loss will not be presumed. The employee must link his or her reduced wages to a work-related injury. There must be proof of wage loss and a causal connection between the injury and the wage loss.
In this case the employer successfully argued that the wage loss was not attributable to the work injury, but the end of the arena football season. The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the magistrate to determine what portion of the football player's lost wages were caused by the end of the football season rather than his disability. In making that conclusion, the Court pointed to other decisions that had commented that there may be circumstances in which an employee, despite suffering a work-related injury that reduced earning capacity, does not suffer a wage loss. For example, "an employee might suffer a serious work-related injury on the last day before the employee was scheduled to retire with a firm intention never to return to work again. In such a circumstance, the employee would have suffered a disability, i.e. a reduction in wage earning capacity, but no wage loss because, even if the injury had not occurred, the employee would not have earned any further wages."
In this case the Court of Appeals agreed with the employer, the Grand Rapids Rampage. The football player's loss of wages must be attributable to his work-related injuries rather than to the end of the football season and the player cannot receive wage loss benefits for the time in the off season when he would not otherwise be earning wages.
In conclusion, employers and carriers must be vigilant and not assume that just because there is an injury, wage loss benefits are owed. It may be that the wage loss is due to some other circumstance than the work injury. Particular situations were this scenario may be applicable in addition to seasonal sports teams, are with employees who are students, retirees, or incarcerated criminals.