Employer's lack of knowledge allows intoxication defense to proceed
Case name: Appeal of Phillips, No. 2011-683 (N.H. 08/21/13).
Ruling: The New Hampshire Supreme Court remanded the case for a determination of whether a worker's intoxication caused his injury.
What it means: In New Hampshire, a worker's intoxication will bar workers' compensation benefits if his intoxication caused the injury.
Summary: A worker rented a trailer from the employers. As part of the lease agreement, he performed yard work and minor home repairs for the employers in exchange for a rent reduction. The employers asked the worker to remove the branch of a tree. The worker fell from a ladder while cutting the branch with a chainsaw. He was rendered a quadriplegic as a result of the fall. At the hospital, it was determined that he had a blood alcohol content of .27. The worker sought benefits. The New Hampshire Supreme Court sent the case back to the Compensation Appeals Board for a determination of whether the worker's intoxication caused his injury.
The worker did not dispute that he was intoxicated at the time of his injury. He argued that the employer did not prove that the intoxication caused his injury. There were no witnesses to the accident. The court noted evidence that the accident may have occurred as a result of the tree branch snapping while the worker was trying to cut it. The court remanded the claim for factual findings regarding causation.
The worker also asserted that the employers had constructive knowledge of his intoxication because they knew he was an alcoholic and usually drank while working. The court found that the employers did not know that the worker was intoxicated at the time of his injury. The employers' interaction with the worker on the day of the accident was brief. The employers did not see alcohol containers in the vicinity and did not see the worker drinking or exhibiting signs that he was intoxicated.
The court also found that the employers had actual notice of his injury. They were called to his side immediately after his fall and knew his injury occurred while he was cutting a tree branch at their request. The court concluded that the notice of injury was not required to include notice of a potential claim for workers' compensation benefits.
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November 4, 2013
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