Guest post by Summer Associate Kristen Schalter

Football players took another hit in Tallahassee (pun intended) – this time in the workers’ compensation arena in the recent decision in Arena Football League v. Bishop, 2017 WL 2438335 (Fla. 1st DCA June 6, 2017). Bryon Bishop previously played for the Orlando Predators for one season and later wanted to rejoin the team. While participating in the Predators’ two-day tryouts in 2013, he suffered an on-field injury.

AFL Contract

Prior to participating in a tryout, a prospective Arena Football League (“AFL”) player is required to sign a contract.  Interestingly, the AFL contracts with players differently than the NFL. In the NFL, contracts are between individual teams and individual players, while in the AFL contracts are between the league itself and individual players.

As in any contract, mutual assent must be present for a “meeting of the minds” between the parties to agree to be bound.  Additionally, to be valid, the AFL contract must contain signatures of the player, a team representative, and an AFL representative. Bishop signed the contract, and along with the Orlando Predators’ coach. When Bishop’s injury occurred, the AFL had not signed the contract.

The Decision

In the opinion, the court held that there was no agreement between the AFL and Bishop because the league had not signed the form contract. Since the first sentence of the contract clearly indicated it was between the AFL and Bishop, Bishop’s signature alone was not enough to demonstrate mutual assent.  Notably, the court found:

Indeed, if there was never mutual assent-evidenced by signatures or otherwise- then…all the Contract’s provisions mean nothing.”

The court went on to explain that there was no guarantee of employment for a full season from the AFL to Bishop, because the AFL only assented to allow Bishop to participate in the tryout. Accordingly, the court held that there was no employer-employee agreement or relationship between the AFL and Bishop at the time he was injured, and thus his injury would not be covered by workers compensation.

With this decision, the First DCA overturned a 2015 compensation claims court decision to award workers compensation benefits to Bishop for his injuries for the two years between the 2013 injury and the date of the decision.

Take-Away for Employers

As a general rule, there is no entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits before an individual is officially hired. This decision confirms that concept, while specifically addressing a situation specific to employment contracts. While written contracts are not required to form an employer/employee relationship, where the relationship is governed by a contract, mutual assent is a condition precedent for that contract to be formed.