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Can Your Workers’ Comp Claim be Denied for Intoxication?
You should know a few things about intoxication on the job. In particular, what happens if your employer thinks you are under the influence when you have a work-related accident? Can your workers’ compensation claim be denied for intoxication? The answer is maybe.
It’s one thing to suspect that an employee was drunk at work. Workers’ compensation insurance adjusters get calls from companies all the time with these types of allegations. The employers want to make sure the injured employee’s claim is denied based on intoxication. While this can be asserted as a defense against providing benefits, there are important considerations.
Workers’ Compensation Benefits and Intoxication
The New Jersey law regarding intoxication as a defense to providing workers’ compensation benefits is found at NJSA 34:15-7. It states that employers may not be held responsible for work accidents that cause injury or death in the case of intoxication or use of certain drugs.
It’s not enough to assert a defense based on the premise. The burden of proof actually falls upon the employer. Obviously, this would mean validation through blood or urine samples as a start. But, that’s just the beginning.
To deny a workers’ compensation claim based on intoxication, the employer has more to prove. There must be evidence that the intoxication was the sole reason for the accident. Otherwise, the claim cannot be denied. A recent case before the New Jersey Appellate Division dealt with this very issue. You can see how it was resolved below.
Recent Case Considers the Intoxication Defense
In its unpublished opinion, the court considered the matter intoxication defense in Diaz v. National Retail Transportation, Inc., A-3927-14T2 (App. Div. November 9, 2016). The injured worker was hurt when a heavy lift fell over on him. Diaz was employed as a mechanic and was in the process of moving the lift when it fell.
The issue in this matter did not seem to be whether or not Diaz was intoxicated at the time of the accident. He admitted to drinking at least two eight-ounce glasses consisting of half whiskey and half ice and water before coming to work. A blood sample was drawn after the accident and showed that Diaz’ blood alcohol content level was quite high. In fact, it was almost twice the legal limit if Diaz had been found operating a motor vehicle.
However, there were other concerns. During court testimony, it was learned that one of the tires on the lift was deflated. It appeared that this contributed to the accident. The employer conceded that there was an issue with one of the tires. The company’s expert also admitted that the problem with the tire may have caused it to tilt.
After reviewing the evidence and testimony, the court determined that intoxication was not the sole reason for the work accident. Although the employer had produced evidence that Diaz was drunk, the court believed that the problem with the lift was also a contributing factor. Therefore, Diaz was found to be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
Injured in a Work Accident?
If you have been injured in any type of work-related accident, the Law Offices of Beninato & Matrafaljo would like to offer you legal advice. There is no cost to meet with us, and we are only paid at the end of the case if we are successful. Have questions? Contact us to schedule a meeting.