Employer's knowledge of alcohol use keeps carrier on the hook
Heth v. Montana State Fund, No. DA 08-0285 (Mont. 05/05/09).
Ruling: The Montana Supreme Court upheld the Workers' Compensation Commission's interpretation of the "employer knowledge" exception to the intoxication defense, finding the employee was entitled to benefits.
What it means:
In Montana, although the workers' compensation law generally precludes paying benefits to a worker who is intoxicated at the time of his accident, there is an exception if his employer had knowledge of and failed to attempt to stop the employee's use of alcohol or drugs.
Summary: The employee-son of a plumbing company owner was seriously injured when the truck he was driving on the job went over an embankment and rolled. He was intoxicated at the time of the accident. The carrier denied his claim on the basis that his intoxication was the major contributing cause of the accident. His father admitted knowing his son drank at work on a regular basis. He testified that he was afraid of damaging his relationship with his son, so he did not attempt to stop him. Instead, he requested his son "modulate" and "control" the amount he drank while working. He argued that a provision of Montana law allows an intoxicated person who is injured while working to receive benefits if his employer "had knowledge of and failed to attempt to stop the employee's use of alcohol." The Montana Supreme Court agreed, finding that the evidence established the father knew his son drank on the job and did not attempt to stop him, but rather acquiesced, merely counseling moderation and control. It upheld the commission's finding that the employee fell into the exception and was entitled to benefits.
The carrier argued that "employer knowledge" meant specific contemporaneous knowledge or knowledge that the employee had been drinking immediately preceding the accident. The supreme court disagreed, noting that if the legislature had intended that the employee possess specific, contemporaneous knowledge, it would have said so.
June 29, 2009
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