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Pilot’s widow can collect full survivor benefits


The widow of an airline pilot who was killed crossing a road to his hotel while away for work travel can collect full survivor benefits, an appeals court in Colorado ruled Thursday, denying the employer’s arguments that the pilot was intoxicated at the time of his accident and thus the case — if compensable — warrants a reduction in benefits.


At issue was whether Luis Ordonez, a SkyWest Airlines Inc. pilot who had been drinking the evening after a training flight in Denver, was in the course and scope of his employment when he was heading to his hotel on the morning of Feb. 15, 2018, and whether state law that allows for a 50% reduction in benefits for workers found to be intoxicated applies, according to documents in SkyWest Airlines Inc. et. al. v Industrial Claims Appeals Office of the State of Colorado, et. al., filed in the Court of Appeals, Division VII, in Denver.


On the first issue of compensability, the airline argued that Mr. Ordonez deviated from his work duties when he went out for the evening, of which an administrator judge agreed, writing that the pilot’s “deviation from travel status had not ended because he was intoxicated and had neither returned to nor appeared to be en route to his hotel.”


The Industrial Claim Appeals Office reversed, writing that Mr. Ordonez’s “deviation ended when he attempted to return” to a hotel, according to court documents that chronicle his mistaken return to the wrong hotel, where instead his colleague was staying, and later attempted to walk to his own hotel several buildings away. The appeals court affirmed on the grounds that Mr. Ordonez had ended his deviation upon returning to the first hotel, despite that not being the correct hotel, according to documents. 


Another issue was the pilot’s blood-alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit for a driver to be deemed intoxicated. Per state law in Colorado, benefits can be reduced by half if an injured worker is found to be intoxicated. Because Mr. Ordonez’s blood sample was not correctly preserved in accordance with state law, the toxicology results are not admissible for imposing the 50% reduction in benefits, both the Industrial Claim Appeals Office and the appeals court ruled.






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