Employee Mauled By Bear After Smoking Pot Wins Workers' Compensation Benefits
In Montana, the state supreme court upheld a Workers’ Compensation Court ruling that a man who was mauled while feeding the bears at a local tourist attraction is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
The claimant filed a claim for injuries sustained during a bear attack that occurred while feeding the bears at Great Bear Adventures. He had admitted to smoking marijuana on the way to work that morning.
In Montana, drug consumption without a proper prescription will preclude an injured worker from collecting benefits if the consumption was the leading cause of the accident, when compared to all other causes. No evidence was presented to the trial court regarding the employee’s level of impairment. The trial court noted that "the [claimant’s] use of marijuana to kick off a day of working around grizzly bears was ill-advised to say the least and mind-boggling stupid to say the most," but noted that grizzly bears are "equal opportunity maulers" without regard to marijuana consumption. The supreme court decided that without evidence of the claimant’s level of impairment, the trial court correctly concluded that marijuana was not the major contributing cause of the employee’s injuries.
My Two Cents:
In Alabama, there is an automatic presumption of legal impairment if the employee fails a drug screen that is compliant with Department of Transportation testing procedures. In the above case, such a test would probably not even be necessary since the employee admitted to smoking on the way to work. Once impairment is established, you must still prove that the impairment was the cause or contributing cause of the accident. In the above case, it may have been helpful to enlist the services of an expert to provide testimony concerning the employee’s level of impairment, how the employee’s impaired judgment could have caused the attack, or how it may have inhibited the employee from avoiding or retreating from the attack.