The Washington Capitals are seeking temporary total disability benefits from the Maryland Workmen's Compensation Commission for players who missed games because of injury during the hocky club's 2 1/2 years of existence. Thus far, however, no claims have been approved by the commission.
The vault has been locked by a decision reached in the very first claim submitted, on behalf of defensemen Greg Joly after he suffered a torn ligament in his right knee at Buffalo Dec. 5, 1974. Joly has since been traded.
Commissioner Harold L. Frankel ruled that, although Joly qualified under the definition of temporary total disability, the claim was rejected because Article 101, Section 19 (a) of Maryland Law specifies "that a payment in whole or in part of such compensation by either the employer or the insurance carrier shall to the extent thereof be a bar to the recovery against the other of the amounts so paid."
Joly, like the other injured Capitals, received full salary during the period of his injury, as required by the National Hockey League standard contract.
Clouding the situation was a second factor cited by Frankel. Joly, for tax purposes, incorporated himself as Grey Joly Enterprises and Frankel ruled that since Joly's contract was between the corporation and the Capitals, he was employed by the corporation and there for ineligible for benefits.
The capitals are appealing Frankel's ruling in Prince George's County Circuit Court, with a tentative hearing set for April 27.
Peter O'malloy, president of the Capitals, said he hoped the technicality of Joly's employment would not affect the decision, so that "it can be decided on the merits."
The sume of money involved in the Joly case amounts to only $102.30 a week, the limit at that time. However, temporary total disability benefits have risen to $188 a week this year and the large number of injured players brings the amount in dispute to a hefty figure. Defenseman Bob Paradise, for example, already has been idled 12 weeks because of pulled stomach muscles.
In addition, a favorable ruling could open the way for other sports team to claim similar benefits. Brian O'Neill, executive director of the NHL, said. "To my knowledge, this has never been done before."
Frankel noted his participation in several permanent disability cases involving the Baltimore Colts, but agreed that the Joly case contained landmark possibilities for temporary total benefits.
In making his decision, Frankel referred to a case involving the Monarch Rubber Co., in which the Maryland Court of Special Appeals approved double payment to an employee of that company. It was ruled that Monarch's payment to the employe constituted a gratuity, because it was not required by articles of employment.
O'Malley said other sports teams probably had not attempted to use the benefits "for the same reason you would not report $75 damage to a fireplace in your home. You would think it was not worth putting in a claim because of the higher premiums it would mean.
"We, however, feel it is worth our while financially. We have to pay premiums as a Maryland employer and if our employees are unable to work, we feel we should get the benefits."
The record of the commission's hearing contained an interesting exchange between Edward J. Clusing, assistant attorney general of Maryland, on behalf of the State Accident Fund, and Frankel.
"The purpose of the Workmen's Compensation Act," Glusing said, "is to provide a working man who is injured with two-thirds of his average weekly wage during the period of temporary total disability."
"The new theory of philosophy, which I can't countermand, is the fact that as much as the claimant is entitled to, he should get," Frankel replied. "That's the modern theory of philosophy and I'm going to go along with it because that's what the courts are saying."
Frankel told The Washington Post there was absolutely nothing illegal about the team trying to collect the benefits through agreement with individual claimants.
The capitals' players routinely have signed applications for benefits prepared by the club. Captain Yvon labre, who missed five weeks this season with a dislocated shoulder, said, "I got my salary. I hope they get back as much of it as they can."
Public records of the case, designated 65,105 by the Circuit Court, disclosed some interesting items.
Since Joly must proceed in the claim as an individual, the Capitals as the employer are listed as a defendant, along with the State Accident Fund, the insuror.
Joly's salary is listed as only $500 a week. The actual amount is immaterial, since $102.30 a week would be the maximum benefit.
Joly's salary for the club's first season, The Washington Post learned, was actually $100.000. He also received a $100.000 bonus to sign with Washington. Since his contract contained an acceleration provision, he was receiving $120,000 this season, when he was dealt to Detroit for Bryan Watson. His contract calls for $130,000 next year and $140,000 in 1978-79.
Paragraph 5 of the NHL standard contract requires the team of pay an injury employee's salary, plus all medical expenses, for up to six months.