According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the incident occurred prior to the Chargers’ home game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. The physician, Schefter reports, was attempting to administer a “pain-killing injection” to treat Taylor’s cracked ribs. The puncture caused Taylor to miss the game. He’s out indefinitely.
On Wednesday, the NFLPA’s George Atallah tweeted that the players’ association is investigating the matter. He added that members of the NFLPA’s “medical and legal team” have contacted Taylor and his representatives.
At least five questions must be considered in forecasting a potential lawsuit:
1. What are the damages?
Taylor’s interest in pursuing litigation will likely hinge on whether the injury is treatable and how quickly recovery occurs. Notably, the injury is described as not career-threatening. Chargers coach Anthony Lynn also tells ESPN that his QB is “not angry, not upset.”
If Taylor fully heals over the next few weeks and reclaims his starting position from rookie Justin Herbert, the 31-year-old former Pro Bowl QB might struggle to establish that he was meaningfully “damaged” in a legal sense.
A successful lawsuit requires a finding of tangible harm, such as lost earnings or pain and suffering. Taylor will continue to be paid in the second year of his two-year, $11 million deal. He clearly endured an awful medical experience, but if he recovers from it and returns to the field, he might view going to court as an unnecessary exercise.
Taylor’s calculus would be different if the injury lingers and impairs his playing career. It could cause him to suffer lost salary, forgone bonuses, missed endorsement opportunities and emotional distress. Lynn says Taylor won’t lose his job on account of injury. But what if Herbert excels? Will Lynn stick to that pledge?
Brad Sohn, an experienced attorney who has represented NFL players in medical malpractice and health law matters, stresses that damages are crucial in assessing potential legal consequences. He adds, “From what I have read, this sounds like a situation where consulting an attorney sounds very important.”
2. Was there a negligent act?
Physicians are not judged against a standard that requires perfection. What Lynn—a football coach, not a health professional—describes as a “mistake” doesn’t automatically prove it was a negligent error.
Ordinarily, medical malpractice requires a finding of substandard treatment or an unreasonable choice when compared to similar situations. Whether the Chargers physician followed applicable standards of care would be crucial. Whether Taylor was adequately informed of, and consented to, foreseeable risks would also play a factor.
3. Will Taylor and the NFLPA follow the CBA?
Before Taylor could pursue a legal case, he (and, by extension, the NFLPA) would need to exhaust any potential remedies in the collective bargaining agreement.
The federal Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA) is a federal law that governs the relationship between NFL players and the league and its 32 teams. The LMRA often plays an instrumental role in NFL legal disputes. It generally requires players to first seek recovery through collectively bargained policies. If they fail to do so, a court will be inclined to dismiss a player’s case as “not yet ripe.”
This leads to Article 39 of the CBA. It outlines a dispute-resolution process for players who contend they have received inadequate medical care. The process contemplates complaints and reviews by knowledgeable experts. Article 39 instructs that “each club shall use best efforts to provide its players with high-quality medical care appropriate to their needs as elite professional football players consistent with professional standards for the industry.”
4. Who would Taylor sue?
It’s not immediately clear whether Taylor would sue the physician, team or both.
The team physician might be an independent contractor rather than an employee. It is usually more difficult to sue a business (the Chargers) for the wrongful acts of an independent contractor. Yet that analysis is complicated in California. The state recently made it more difficult for workers to be classified as independent contractors. In addition, Taylor could argue the Chargers negligently retained the physician irrespective of the physician’s workplace classification.
5. Would workers’ compensation prevent a lawsuit?
Workers’ compensation provides swift recovery to injured employees—including pro athletes—for medical expenses and lost wages. In exchange, employees relinquish opportunities to sue.
There is case law on-point involving the Chargers. In the late 1980s, former Chargers defensive back John Hendy sued the team’s doctor for alleged negligence in treatment of a knee injury. The California Supreme Court ruled that Hendy’s exclusive remedy was through California’s workers’ compensation statute. This prevented Hendy from pursuing a medical malpractice suit.