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Supreme Court upholds award to workers injured after using cocaine, alcohol



The Alaska Supreme Court unanimously upheld an award of benefits to a worker for his injuries from a fall despite his admission of using cocaine and drinking on the job and testing positive for drugs and alcohol after the accident.

The Supreme Court said intoxication is an affirmative defense and requires the payer to prove a nearby accident was caused by intoxication. The court said that in this case there was no evidence that the worker’s drug use was related to him falling from a ladder after its support gave way.

Virgil Adams was left permanently and completely disabled after falling about 30 feet while trying to repair a roof. He admitted to drinking beer and using cocaine before the accident, and he claimed the property owner had given him the drugs. Emergency tests confirmed drug and alcohol use.

A doctor opined that with Mr. Adams̵

7; level of alcohol in his blood, he “would have had impairment of balance and speech, reaction time and judgment.”

Neither the owner nor the foundation that owned the property had workers’ compensation coverage, which is why the guarantee fund for workers’ compensation insurance was joined as a party to the claim. The fund argued that Adams was not entitled to benefits because of his intoxication at the time of the accident.

The Workers’ Compensation Board said the weight of the evidence supported a finding that loose cots supporting the ladder had given way, which would have caused anyone to fall, so Mr. Adam’s intoxication was not a proximate cause of the accident.

The Workers’ Compensation Commission determined.

The Alaska Supreme Court said substantial evidence supported the board’s decision.

While the fund argued that Adams’ impaired judgment caused him to fail to carefully inspect the crib before using the ladder, the court said that this theory necessarily assumed that the weakness of the cribbing was obvious or observable before the collapse because it would otherwise have had no effect on the accident.

WorkCompCentral is a sister magazine to Business Insurance. More stories here.


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