Ty Jones was, in hockey terms, an "enforcer" -- sent to the ice to protect smaller, more skilled players or to rough up opponents who needed an attitude adjustment.
So when the Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League sent Jones over the boards on March 29, 2002, with instructions to "go get" a particular opponent, he was "acting in the course of his employment," as they say in the law. While he sat in the penalty box afterward, Jones noticed he could not lift his right arm.
Jones sat out a few games, played four playoff games and then spent the next seven months rehabilitating his right shoulder. But when he applied for workers' compensation for his job-related injury, the Admirals refused, arguing in part that the fight had been voluntary.
But the Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission sided with Jones, and this week so did the Virginia Court of Appeals. The court endorsed the commission's finding that "fighting is an integral part of the game of hockey" and that Jones's injury occurred "while he followed his coach's orders."
The attorneys for both the Admirals and Jones did not return calls yesterday seeking comment. Jones, now 26 and apparently out of hockey, could not be located.
The opinion, handed down Tuesday and written by Appeals Court Judge Larry G. Elder, was "unpublished," meaning it does not establish legal precedent. But the ruling cited numerous similar published cases, including a 2003 case in which both the appeals court and the state Supreme Court ruled that a pro football player was eligible for workers' compensation.
Jones, a 6-foot-3, 218-pound native of Washington state, was a first-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 1997, taken 16th overall. The next season, while still playing junior hockey in Spokane, he tallied 84 points (and 161 penalty minutes) in 60 games.
After eight games in the National Hockey League in 1999, Jones went to various Blackhawks' farm teams, landing in Norfolk in 2000. His scoring totals went down, but his penalty minutes stayed high.
The Virginian-Pilot described the Admirals' March 29, 2002, game against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins as a slugfest, with five fights, 34 penalties and 122 penalty minutes. Norfolk's coach, Trent Yawney, told the paper that the Penguins were "out for blood. . . . The fights they had, they got killed in them. We beat them on the ice, we beat them on the scoreboard."
Jones's fight, apparently at Yawney's instigation, aggravated an earlier shoulder injury, his doctor testified. The Admirals raised that as a defense, too, claiming that his injury was the result of "cumulative trauma" and not subject to workers' compensation. The appeals court rejected that argument, saying that Jones had been playing without pain for months before the fight.
The Admirals argued that Jones's fight was voluntary, or "willful misconduct" under the law, and that hockey actually has rules prohibiting fighting. But Elder wrote that Jones was "performing a task that he was employed to perform" -- fighting -- and that the executive director of the Professional Hockey Players' Association had testified that fighting "is not prohibited by the league" and that "games without fighting are the exception rather than the rule."
Jones apparently acknowledged that, once on the ice, he started the fight. But the Admirals did not contest that Yawney, who now coaches the Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL, instructed him to do so.
As such, Elder wrote, "the fight was not a personal undertaking but instead was directed against the other player as part of [Jones's] employment relationship and in furtherance of [the Admirals'] business."
Jones's claim was only for the period from April to November 2002, when the next season began. It could not be determined yesterday how much money he stood to receive from the ruling.
Jones did return the next season, and in 2003 he wound up back in Norfolk, where he totaled 93 penalty minutes in 37 games. But the Admirals released him after he violated team rules in February 2004. He played six games for Florida in the NHL, then was sent to the minors again and quit after two games in San Antonio, according to news reports.
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