The National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles football team has failed to score a victory in a disability case involving former linebacker Emmanuel Acho who suffered thumb injuries in 2015 while with the team.
The 2023 Super Bowl team disputed disability payments approved by a workers’ compensation judge for its former player Acho for one period (August 23 to November 10, 2015) right after the injuries and for a later period (November 10, 2015 through September 12, 2019) during which, due to lingering complications from the injuries, Acho was unable to play professional football.
Before a three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court, the Eagles argued that medical testimony heard by the workers’ compensation judge did not support Acho’s claims that his thumb injuries were the reason he was let go from the team and could not play professionally after that.
On August 11, 2015, while practicing, Acho injured his thumb but continued to play football. On August 23, he fractured the same thumb during practice. He completed practice and later was treated by Dr. Randall Culp, who performed surgery on his thumb. Acho could not participate in any physical activity for approximately three weeks after the surgery and he was released from the Eagles’ roster immediately after his surgery.
After physical rehabilitation, Dr. Culp removed the pins from Acho’s hand and cleared him to play football even though he continued to have pain and weakness in the thumb. He re- signed with the Eagles on November 10, 2015. However, his thumb remained symptomatic and he did not play in any games in 2015. He practiced with a brace and wrapping on his right hand and his participation was limited to special teams and scouting. He was released by the team 16 days after being re-signed.
Thereafter, Acho attempted to try out for other teams, but found that he could not play at his pre-injury level. He was not offered any positions on any other team and has not played professional football again. Acho believes that his thumb injury made him physically unable to play football at a high level, which is why he was never signed by any team after the Eagles released him in 2015.
In 2018, Acho filed disability claims while the Eagles moved to terminate benefits with regard to both injuries.
The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board affirmed the order of workers’ compensation Judge Stephen Harlan, who awarded Acho temporary partial disability benefits. The judge cited medical testimony that the thumb injury rendered Acho unable to perform his pre-injury linebacker job and that the thumb injury would make it difficult to play at the level required in the NFL. The judge granted Acho partial disability benefits until September 12, 2019 and granted the Eagles a three-week credit for an injury settlement reached in 2015.
The Eagles maintained that Acho was not released due to his injury. The team also argued that the evidence relied upon by the workers’ compensation judge to award benefits through to 2019 was insufficient and not credible.
The appeals court disagreed with the Eagles completely. It said there is “substantial evidence” that Acho was released because of his injury and that it is “undisputed in the record” that Acho stopped playing football immediately after his injury.
The court also cited the medical testimony that the displacement and arthritis in Acho’s thumb were related to his 2015 injury and more than likely resulted in pain and decreased function in his thumb; that ongoing treatment, potentially to include surgery, would be required; and that displacement, arthritis, and joint pain interfere with the player’s ability to use his hands.
The court criticized the Eagles for largely discounting or ignoring Acho’s pre-injury ability and prospects in the NFL. The court said the Eagles never countered evidence of Acho’s success and ranking as a professional player and the workers’ compensation judge was free to find that he played at a high level prior to his injuries. “Any detraction from that level of play due to injury could and apparently did tarnish and ultimately eliminate” Acho’s prospects to play as a high-performance linebacker in the NFL and the Eagles’ suggestion to the contrary, the court said, “simply is not accurate.”
After a four-year college career at the University of Texas, Acho was drafted in 2012 by the Cleveland Browns but then went to the Eagles in 2013 where he was for four seasons. Since the close of his NFL career, Acho has worked as a sports commentator and run a nonprofit organization, Living Hope Christian Ministries, which built a hospital in Nigeria. He is also known for his social justice advocacy, having produced a popular video series, “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.”
Topics Workers' Compensation Talent
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