INTOXICATED WORKER AWARDED WORKERS’ COMP
Typically workers who are intoxicated at the time of a work-related injury are not awarded Workers’ Compensation benefits. However, this was not the case in Villa v. City of Las Cruces, a noteworthy work comp case out of New Mexico.
Villa, a city worker who was driving and operating a garbage truck prior to the accident, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.12, well above the state legal driving limit. While he was climbing on the side of the truck in an attempt to free a trash bin that was lodged in a garbage truck hopper, he lost his balance and fell on the pavement, resulting in serious injuries.
In assessing the man’s claim, the Workers’ Compensation judge noted that although Villa had been inebriated at the time of the accident, his supervisor and co-workers did not notice any lessened ability to perform the essential functions of the job. The judge gave him a 10% penalty for intoxication and awarded him the remaining 90% of Workers’ Compensation benefits.
The city appealed the decision. However, a New Mexico Court of Appeal upheld the ruling, stating that under state law, intoxication must be the only factor in a work injury for an employee to be denied compensation.
The law allows an employer to make sure an employee is “fit for duty,” meaning the employee will cause no harm to themselves or anybody else and be as productive as the other employees. An employer has the right to request a fit-for-duty exam pre-hire and also has the right to request one of existing employees if they have a reasonable suspicion that the employee may not be fit for duty. A clear drug and alcohol policy can help mitigate the situation. It’s advisable to rely upon professional legal advice.
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