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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Drugs, Alcohol and Mauling Bears

Guest Blog by Thomas M. Domer 

I’ve received dozens of emails and phone calls from friends and colleagues railing on the Montana court ruling granting workers’ comp benefits to a man high on pot when a grizzly mauled him at a nature park. “How ridiculous, how unfair!” rings the common theme from almost every caller. 

In response, I remind folks that the court said grizzlies are ”equal opportunity maulers”, and no proof existed that the man provoked the attack because he was high. I also remind everyone that workers’ comp is a no-fault insurance system, where concepts like “fairness” are all very relative. 

Many states, including Wisconsin, hold that if an injury results from intoxication (by alcohol or drugs) benefits are not denied, but reduced (usually by 15%) as an employee safety violation, but intoxication is not evidence of a deviation if the employee is otherwise in the course of employment. The much-heralded “Frozen Fingers” case in Wisconsin confirmed that rule, where a salesman was so drunk he couldn’t open his own door, passed out and has his frostbitten fingers amputated. Benefits were awarded, but reduced by 15%.

Thomas M. Domer practices in Milwaukee, Wisconsin ( He has authored and edited several publications including the legal treatise Wisconsin Workers' Compensation Law (West) and he is the Editor of the national publication, Workers' First Watch. Tom is past chair of the Workers' Compensation Section of the American Association for Justice. He is a charter Fellow in the College of Workers' Compensation Lawyers. He co-authors the nationally recognized Wisconsin Workers' Compensation Experts Blog.