Presence of alcohol in claimant's urine taints version of events, defeats claim
Case name: McMichael v. M.M. Wright, Inc., et al., No. 0426-08-2 (Va. Ct. App. 12/23/08, unpublished).
Ruling: The Virginia Court of Appeals held that the Workers' Compensation Commission did not err in denying the claimant workers' compensation benefits for an injury that arose out of a physical altercation with a supervisor.
What it means: In Virginia, when a claimant is injured while fighting with a coworker, the injury arises out of employment only when the claimant satisfies two elements: 1) the fight was related to "the manner of conducting business" rather than personal; and 2) the claimant was not responsible for the fight. If the claimant satisfies both elements, he has established that there is a causal connection between his injury and his employment, entitling him to workers' compensation benefits.
Summary: A skidder operator broke his leg during an altercation with his supervisor over the type of work the supervisor wanted him to do. The claimant, who was agitated when he approached the supervisor, threw his hands up during the argument, scratching the supervisor's face. To avoid losing his balance, the supervisor put his weight on the claimant, which caused the claimant to fall.
A coworker testified that he smelled alcohol on the claimant's breath right after the accident happened, and along with a second coworker, stated that the claimant was acting strangely prior to the fight. A toxicology report from the hospital where the claimant was treated for his broken leg revealed the presence of alcohol in his urine.
The Court of Appeals upheld the commission's denial of benefits. It reasoned that contrary to the claimant's argument, the commission did not state that the claimant's injury was the result of intoxication. Rather, the commission discounted the claimant's version of events because he was intoxicated at the time of the incident.
The court found that although the argument was not personal in nature, the claimant failed to establish that he was not the aggressor. "Once the commission discounted [the claimant's] version of events, the only remaining version on which it could rely was [the supervisor's] version." According to the supervisor, the claimant started the fight because he was unhappy with the type of work he had to perform.
February 5, 2009
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