Legal Issues

Can Pot-Smoking, Liquored-Up Employees Qualify For Workers Comp?

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In a recent installment of You Be the Judge, I asked you to weigh in on two workers’ compensation cases.

The question: Who gets benefits? Here’s a quick recap …

Claimant #1

The first claimant was a man who admittedly smoked marijuana while working at the Great Bear Adventure in Coram, Montana. After repairing a fence in a drug-addled state, he decided it would be fun to go inside the fence and feed the grizzly bears. The biggest bear in the park promptly “sat on him and bit his legs and buttocks.” He eventually managed to crawl away and was taken to a hospital where he underwent surgeries for various injuries, including a detached knee cap.

Claimant #2

The second claimant was a painter. According to court documents, he “began drinking alcohol at the work site at about 2 p.m. and continued until he had consumed a small bottle of whiskey and more than half a fifth of vodka.” He then ”stopped performing any work duties” and “removed himself to a first floor closet where he slept for two hours.” After he woke up, he stumbled around for awhile and then fell down an empty elevator shaft.

Poll results

We asked you: Who’s entitled to benefits?

After 271 votes, here’s what you said:

  • Claimant #1: 14 percent
  • Claimant #2: 9 percent
  • Both: 31 percent
  • Neither: 46 percent

The Answer

Sadly, only 14 percent of you were right. Only Claimant #1 was found to be eligible for benefits.

Claimant #1′s initial application for benefits was denied. But he appealed all the way to the Montana Supreme Court. The court called the claimant “mind-bogglingly stupid” but ruled that his pot-smoking habit didn’t significantly contribute to his injuries. The court called grizzlies “equal-opportunity maulers” and found no evidence that the claimant provoked the attack because he was high.

Claimant #2 was denied benefits because his whiskey and vodka guzzling directly contributed to his injuries, according to a Utah court. The court didn’t buy his argument that he fell while masking the trim around the elevator shaft opening and that the fact that he was stumbling around in a booze-fueled post-nap haze had nothing to do with his injuries.

The lesson

Want to avoid workers’ comp claims? Have a safe workplace.

If either of the employers in these cases had taken minimal precautions to protect their employees, you wouldn’t be reading about ‘em now. Even though the second claimant lost his case, his employer had to spend lots of time and money to prove its case.

Don’t let that happen to you.

Special thanks to Eric Meyer of The Employer Handbook and TLNT for bringing these cases to the world’s attention.

This was originally published on Manpower Group’s Employment Blawg.

Mark Toth has served as Manpower Group North America's Chief Legal Officer since 2000. He also serves on the company’s Global Leadership Team, Global Legal Lead Team and North American Lead Team. Mark is recognized as an expert on legal issues affecting the U.S. workplace and is frequently quoted in media from The Wall Street Journal to 60 Minutes. He is also a past Chair of the American Staffing Association and is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources. Contact him at mark.toth@manpowergroup.com.