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Are Teams On the Hook When Stars Injure Themselves in Non-Sports Activities?

New York Giant Jason Pierre-Paul suffers severe injury to his hand in fireworks accident. Legal, ethical and contractual issues abound.

By Ted Tefaro

Key Takeaways:

  • Professional athletes have very short, high-paying careers, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the NFL.
  • As advisors, it is our job to make sure our clients are protected and ready for anything, on and off the field.
  • If Pierre-Paul signs the franchise contract he was offered this spring, the Giants could place him on the “non-football” injury list because his injuries occurred outside of football.
  • This might mean that the team would not have to pay him for games he misses. But because Pierre-Paul was technically not under contract with the team, the Giants cannot put him on the non-football injury list.


If you have athletes or other celebrity clients, you might want to double-check their insurance policies. Unfortunately, their risk of injury is not only on the field.

Many NFL fans (and attorneys) have been closely following the case of Jason Pierre-Paul, the star defensive end of the New York Giants who was injured in an incident involving mishandled fireworks on July Fourth. The Florida native acquired a U-Haul van full of explosives to celebrate Independence Day right before a misadventure resulted in “severe” burns and nerve damage to the athlete’s hand and amputation of his right index finger.

As a result, the team let the deadline pass for signing Pierre-Paul to a lucrative long-term contract. Teams that had used the one-year “franchise designation” for players, as the Giants did with Pierre-Paul in March, had until Wednesday to reach new multiyear deals with the players. For several months, the Giants had hoped to negotiate such a longer pact with Pierre-Paul. But the status of negotiations changed drastically after Pierre-Paul’s injury over the July Fourth weekend. Things got even worse for the young star after he refused to see Giants’ medical personnel at the Florida hospital where he was being treated.

Pierre-Paul will most likely remain a Giant this season, although no one is sure when he will be healthy enough to play again. As the Giants’ franchise player, Pierre-Paul had been scheduled to receive about $14.8 million in 2015. But because he did not sign the franchise contract offer from the Giants before his injury, what happens next is uncertain.

If Pierre-Paul signs the franchise contract that was offered, the Giants could place him on the “non-football” injury list because his injuries occurred outside of football. This might mean that the team does not have to pay him for games he would miss. But because Pierre-Paul was technically not under contract with the team, the Giants cannot put him on the non-football injury list now.

Young, talented professional athletes have incredible advantages and opportunities that most of us can only fantasize about. But their careers are very short, and a lifetime of hard work can end at a moment’s notice. As advisors, it is our job to make sure our clients are protected and ready for anything, on and off the field.

Pierre-Paul could instead wait most of the summer until his hand has sufficiently healed, then sign the franchise player offer, and since he would be healthy, he could not be put on the non-football injury list and be docked for pay. Without a contract, Pierre-Paul also cannot attend Giants training camp practices or meetings. The Giants have told the news media that they want Pierre-Paul at training camp, where they can supervise his recovery.

Pierre-Paul declined to attend any of the team’s off-season workouts or practices in the spring.

There is no question that Jason Pierre-Paul has the ability to be an asset to the team. The 26-year-old player has plenty of career ahead of him, and plenty to lose should he become permanently disabled. Pierre-Paul is set to make $14.8 million this year, but has yet to officially sign his contract with the Giants. According to reports, the Giants have expressed concern in the past regarding Pierre-Paul’s readiness for a long-term commitment to the team. He’s a gifted athlete, but had exhibited reckless and immature behavior in the past. Many football pundits believe his off-the-field behavior caused him to be drafted lower out of college than comparable top players, potentially costing him millions.

Conclusion

The latest incident has only heightened that concern, and technically, if they so choose, the Giants could retract their eight-figure offer to Pierre-Paul. Fortunately, there are insurance products available that will allow clients like Pierre-Paul to protect themselves and their income potential. For example, our firm provides disability coverage for professional athletes to protect potential future earnings or non-guaranteed contracts. Contract coverage is also available for teams or sponsors looking to protect their most valued players.


About the Author

Edward A. (Ted) Tafaro, president & CEO of Mahwah, New Jersey-based Exceptional Risk Advisors, is an expert on high-limit specialty life, accident and disability products for clients with extraordinary insurance needs, including celebrities, athletes, entertainers, highly compensated executives and professionals. By partnering with Lloyd’s of London syndicates, his firm manages some of the largest binding authorities available in the United States for these specialty programs. For more information, contact him at 201-512-0110 or ted.tafaro@exceptionalriskadvisors.com.