Smell of alcohol foils technician's claim after fall over railing
Case name: Ruskin v. Ledic Realty Services, Inc., No. W2009-02595-WC-R3-WC (Tenn. 02/25/11, unpublished).
Ruling: In an unpublished decision, the Tennessee Supreme Court held that a maintenance technician was not entitled to benefits because his intoxication was a cause of his injuries.
What it means: In Tennessee, a worker's injuries will not be covered by workers' compensation if his intoxication was a cause of his injuries.
Summary: A maintenance technician for several apartment buildings received a call that a resident dropped his keys down the elevator shaft of the building and was locked out of his apartment. The technician retrieved the resident's keys and followed the resident upstairs to his apartment to collect the fee for lock-out service. The technician was climbing the last flight of stairs to the third floor when he fell backwards over the handrail and landed 20 feet below. He sustained a head injury and fractures to several bones. The resident and an EMT smelled alcohol on the technician's breath. The technician was hospitalized for six weeks, where he was also treated for alcohol withdrawal. The employer denied the claim on the ground that the injuries were caused by the technician's intoxication. The Tennessee Supreme Court found that the technician was not entitled to benefits because his intoxication was a cause of his injuries.
Although the technician denied being intoxicated at the time of the injury, his girlfriend said he had consumed beer earlier that day. The technician's supervisor previously counseled him after smelling alcohol on his breath during work hours. Records from the technician's physician created a few months before the incident indicated that the technician consumed eight to 10 beers per day.
The resident testified that the technician smelled of alcohol and was unsteady on his feet. Further, the resident said the technician complained that he injured his left ankle, so he lifted his left leg and leaned back, causing his body to hover over the railing. The resident was concerned and started to descend the stairs toward him when he fell. The court explained that intoxication does not need to be the sole cause of an employee's injury to make the affirmative defense, only a cause of the injury.
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April 28, 2011
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