Compensable Fighting in Virginia

November 4th, 2005 by

When an employee starts a fight, any potential workers comp claims based upon injuries to the instigator are denied. The denial stems from the employee’s “wilful intent.” If you knowingly and wilfully injure yourself (by starting a fight), the comp system rejects the claim. The person who is attacked, however, may collect comp for injuries, unless the fight has absolutely nothing to do with work.
But what if the employee is a minor league hockey player? And what if his coach tells him to start the fight? Ty Jones, a formidable 218 pound winger for the Norfolk Admirals, hurt his shoulder during a fight on the ice in 2002. He said his coach ordered him to fight. After he fought, he was unable to lift his arm.
Under the Virginia system, Jones was awarded worker’s comp in 2004, for the seven months he was undergoing therapy for the injury. The Admirals appealed, claiming the fighting was wilful misconduct.
The state appeals court recently ruled in Jones’ favor, saying that the injury rose from his employment. The court went on to note that fighting is very much a part hockey, as opposed to the normal working world, where fighting is never a regular part of the work day. I wonder if the Admirals were able to present evidence that they coach their players never to fight. That fighting is against their policy and anyone violating the policy is subject to discipline, up to and including termination. Yeah, right, just what I would expect from a hockey team!
While many states exclude professional athletes from the workers comp system, others leave the door open. Ty Jones was able to access the benefits available to other “employees” in Virginia. By contrast, those who take on careers in the boxing ring, with all the risks that sport entails, have no such protections. We have before us the sad image of the once gregarious Muhammed Ali, who suffers from a debilitating Parkinson’s disease that is very likely related to his long career in the ring. As far as I know, there is no comp rate for boxers — and if there were, I imagine the actuaries would come up with a high multiple of the payroll, something like $400 per $100 of payroll. That’s one form of insurance that few would sell and few would buy.