Posted on May 19, 2014
Most employers in this country understand that workers compensation insurance is in place to protect them from workers comp lawsuits and also to protect employees when they are injured or become ill on the job. Many states operate a no fault system meaning that no matter who is at fault for an injury, workers comp benefits are paid to assist injured workers with medical treatment and replacement of lost wages.
When an employee knowingly works while intoxicated and is then injured, will workers compensation be awarded? In many states the answer is no. Employees that are injured and intoxicated while working typically are not awarded compensation. But, interesting news about this issue just came about in the State of New Mexico.
A waste management employee for the city of Las Cruces, New Mexico fell from a garbage truck and was seriously injured. Although it was discovered that he was inebriated, the court ruled that he was eligible to receive benefits through the city's workers compensation insurance policy.
The workers compensation judge in the case, Edward Villa v. City of Las Cruces, ruled that despite the fact that Villa had a blood alcohol level of .12, his fellow co-workers and supervisor did not find his behavior amiss. The judge awarded the injured employee 90 percent of his workers compensation claim with a penalty of 10 percent for his intoxication. The ruling stated that in order for the claim to be denied intoxication would have needed to be the sole contributing factor to the accident. The city appealed; however, the New Mexico Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's decision.
If other states follow suit, then this intoxication ruling could soon become the norm in how workers compensation insurance laws are applied. Fortunately, the employer was properly insured for workers compensation coverage, and the claim was handled through the insurance policy. While it is not always possible to know when or if an employee is intoxicated at work, employers can work on prevention of these types of injuries by developing appropriate safety training and employee policies to discourage employees from this behavior while on the job.