TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Nearly four years after a former Arena Football League player was injured while trying to regain a roster spot with the Orlando Predators, a state appeals court Tuesday rejected his workers' compensation insurance claim.
A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal overturned a judge's ruling that supported workers' compensation benefits for Bryon Bishop, a former lineman for the Predators who was injured in July 2013 as he worked out with the team.
The appeals court concluded that Bishop was not an employee of the Arena Football League. Bishop and a Predators coach had signed a contract, but the document had not been signed by a league official. Unlike in the National Football League, where teams and players agree on contracts, the Arena Football League employs the players, the ruling said.
“Bishop also suggests that the AFL (Arena Football League) could assent to the contract without signing it,” said the five-page opinion, written by appeals-court Judge Allen Winsor and joined by judges Thomas Winokur and Harvey Jay. “It is true that parties may show assent through means other than signatures. But in this case, the only AFL action Bishop claims showed the AFL's assent was the AFL's decision to let Bishop participate in the tryout. We cannot conclude that allowing a player to participate in a tryout shows assent to `hire the player as a skilled football player' for the duration of a football season.”
Bishop, who played college football at the University of North Carolina, played for the Predators and the Jacksonville Sharks in 2010 and 2011 in the Arena Football League, according to a 2014 document written by a judge of compensation claims. Bishop tried out again for the Predators in July 2013 and was injured during two days of workouts.
In an October 2015 decision, Judge of Compensation Claims Thomas Sculco found that a contract between Bishop and the league was binding, despite the lack of a signature from a league official. Sculco also found that Bishop suffered injuries to his right knee, neck, back and left foot and that he was entitled to workers' compensation benefits.
But the appeals court said Tuesday that Sculco's conclusion about Bishop being under contract was incorrect and that “there was no employer-employee relationship on the date of the injury.”
Part of state law ordinarily excludes professional athletes from workers' compensation coverage. But the appeals court said the judge of compensation claims found that the exclusion did not apply in Bishop's case, and neither side challenged the judge's decision on that issue.