During a mid-September game, Los Angeles Chargers starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor suffered two cracked ribs.1 Despite the injury, Taylor was cleared to play week two against the Kansas City Chiefs.2 To allow Taylor to play, Chargers team doctors administered an injection the morning of the game to the nerve between Taylor’s cracked rib and the lungs.3 During administration of the shot, the team doctor pressed too deep and created a numeral thorax (an air sack putting pressure on the lung) thus puncturing it.4 This article will examine what, if any, legal options Taylor has against his team and the team’s doctor.
Taylor is unable to bring a medical malpractice claim against the team doctor in court because the current contract he signed with the Chargers under the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) precludes such a claim.5 Article 39 of the current CBA sets out a grievance process by private arbitration for complaints about medical procedures.6 Article 39 does not appear to prevent all claims from being brought, or even to preclude a medical malpractice claim entirely, it just sets out an initial grievance process.7 It states: “If the Parties are unable to agree upon whether or not a violation occurred or the appropriate discipline that should be imposed within three (3) weeks following the filing of a complaint, the matter will be immediately referred to the Impartial Arbitrator…”8 Therefore, Taylor is not out of options. He may be able to make a negligence claim against the team itself. To sufficiently plead a negligence claim, a plaintiff is required to show a duty of care, a breach of that duty and that the breach was a cause of the injury.9 This duty could be between Taylor and his team and for the team to provide a doctor who would not puncture his lung during an apparently routine medical procedure. The breach would be the lung puncture itself. The causation and harm would be Taylor’s injury that resulted from the doctor’s actions, and do not seem to be in dispute here, given the publicly available information.10 The possible duty owed to Taylor by the team, through the doctor, will be examined below.
California case law suggests that employees suffering an “industrial injury” can sue their employers for providing doctors that aggravated existing injuries.11 In Mock v. Santa Monica Hospital, the California court referred to the accident the employee suffered in that situation as occurring “in the course of employment.”12 Under a possible interpretation of the California Supreme Court’s ruling in Mock, Taylor could argue that workplace injuries are the same as “industrial injuries.” Taylor’s injury happened during a game, which was subsequently severely aggravated by a doctor provided by his employer. NFL teams, while enjoying certain special protections due to the unique CBA and violent nature of the sport, are not necessarily immune to a lawsuit. In Mendenhall v. Oakland Raiders, amphetamines were prescribed by the team doctor as a quick substitute for more serious injury treatment, contravening proper medical procedure. In that case, liability was placed on the team, not the team doctor.13 Although the type of injection Taylor received was in fact the proper treatment for his injury, a punctured lung was not part of that treatment. In both Mendenhall and Taylor’s situations, the player suffered harm because of what could be perceived as medical malpractice. Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, the employer of the doctor (the Team) would be responsible for this malpractice. However, because of the difficult arbitration process imposed by the CBA or some clause in his contract about a potential medical malpractice claim, Taylor would be better able to get relief through a negligence claim.
While it may seem obvious who is to blame for the accident, the law is not as clear. While the strengths of Taylor’s arguments are in the idea that he suffered from medical malpractice and is likely to lose significant earning potential, the strengths of the team/doctor’s case are that Taylor might be precluded from bringing this kind of claim by his contract and the NFL’s CBA-outlined procedure for bringing these kinds of cases. The CBA does appear to prevent a medical malpractice claim. However, California law and the CBA itself may not prevent Taylor from bringing a negligence claim against his team. It will be interesting to see how the courts rule and if this has any effect on future CBA or injuries. If Taylor is successful, many players who get aggravated injuries from team doctor treatments would be able to hold their teams liable for that treatment. Teams may then be motivated to try and offset liability through player contracts.
Written by: Benjamin Kaplan
Benjamin Kaplan is a Sports Section Student Editor
Research Assistance by: Skyler Jordan Sands, Eli Grabelsky, and Lanie Halpern
1 Jordan Heck, What happened to Tyrod Taylor? How a bizarre injury from Chargers doctor cost QB his starting job, Sporting News (October 13, 2020).
5 National Football League Players Association, Collective Bargaining Agreement 2020, nflpa.com (November 18,2020).
9 46 Cal. Jur. 3d Negligence § 85 (2020)
10 Adam Schefter, Chargers QB Tyrod Taylor’s lung punctured by team doctor before Chiefs game, ESPN, (September 23, 2020).
11 Mock v. Santa Monica Hospital, 9 Cal. Rptr. 555, 560 (Cal. Ct. App. 1960).
12 Id. at 557
13 Morley Ben Pitt, Malpractice on the Sidelines: Developing a Standard of Care for Team Sports Physicians, 2 Hastings Comm. & Ent. L.J. 579, 594 (1980).