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High court upholds award to worker 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 high court said intoxication is an affirmative defense and requires the payer to prove an accident was proximately caused by intoxication. The court said that in this case there was no proof that the worker's drug use was related to his falling from a ladder after its supports gave way.

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

One doctor opined that with Mr. Adams’s level of blood alcohol, he "would have had impairment of balance and speech, reaction time and judgment."

Neither the owner nor the trust that owned the property had workers compensation coverage, so the Workers' Compensation Benefits Guaranty Fund was joined as a party in the claim. The fund contended Mr. 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 conclusion that loose cribbing supporting the ladder had given way, which would have caused anyone to fall, so Mr. Adams’ intoxication was not a proximate cause of the accident.

The Workers' Compensation Appeals Commission affirmed.

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

While the fund argued that Mr. Adams’ impaired judgment caused him to fail to inspect the cribbing closely before using the ladder, the court said this theory necessarily assumed the cribbing's weakness was apparent or observable before the collapse because otherwise inspecting the cribbing would have had no effect on the accident.

WorkCompCentral is a sister publication of Business Insurance. More stories here.