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You Versus the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Intoxication Defense

Posted D. Joseph Chapman on Feb 02, 2014 in Workers' Compensation

“In cases where the injury or death is caused by intoxication, no compensation shall be paid if the injury or death would not have occurred but for the employee’s intoxication, but the burden of proof of such fact shall be upon the employer.”

Section 301 of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act sets forth the ground rules for one of the biggest loopholes in the law for injured workers: the intoxication defense. As a general principle, employees who have been hurt on the job in Pennsylvania are entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits for their medical treatment, a portion of lost wages, and any permanent disability. But the boss holds a trump card: he can act to deny those benefits by claiming that the worker was intoxicated at work and therefore barred from any recovery.

Fortunately, an injured worker can still prevail in his workers’ comp claim, if he’s smart and knows the law thoroughly—or if he is smart enough to hire an experienced Dauphin County workers’ compensation lawyer to represent his interests.

The Limits to the Workers’ Compensation Intoxication Defense

The majority of American adults consume alcohol at least occasionally. Illegal drug use is less common, but estimates show that over 17 million people use marijuana every month. Even though most people try to be responsible at work, we shouldn’t be astonished if sometimes a worker is intoxicated on the job—or if that intoxicated state sometimes results in a workplace accident.

It’s fair enough that the law denies those people a right to demand the business cover their injuries. But fairness also requires that the employer shouldn’t be able to block workers’ compensation benefits every time by asserting that that an injured employee was drunk. In fact, there are two important limits to when the boss can use the intoxication defense to thwart a workers’ comp claim:

  • Proving intoxication. The employer has the burden of proof to show that the worker was actually intoxicated at the time of the incident. A blood test is the most reliable means to prove that a person has consumed alcohol or drugs, as long as the test is performed in a timely manner. However, the employer may not have the legal right to force a worker to undergo a blood test, because of the protections granted in the U.S. Bill of Rights. If the employer has a regularly enforced substance abuse policy in the workplace and if the worker has given prior consent to blood tests, then he may be compelled to be tested after an accident. Otherwise, the employer may have to rely on less reliable methods—such as observations of the worker’s behavior—to prove he was drunk or stoned when the accident occurred.
  • Proving that intoxication was a key cause of the accident. Consider the case of a worker who is injured or killed in a boiler explosion in an industrial plant. If the worker was not involved in triggering the accident, the employer is still liable for paying workers’ comp medical or death benefits, regardless of whether the worker was intoxicated. Again, the employer has the burden to prove that intoxication was a factor in the incident.

Don’t Give Up When Your Boss Tries to Block Your Comp Benefits

As Harrisburg workers’ compensation attorneys, we have seen too often how easily injured men and women in the central Pennsylvania area are turned away from collecting the benefits they deserve when their bosses object to a claim. Don’t let this happen to you.

If you have been hurt at work, the presumption of the law is that you deserve workers’ compensation benefits. Your employer has a huge task ahead if he wants to prove otherwise. For help in getting the compensation that you have earned, contact Schmidt Kramer at 717-888-8888 locally or 888-476-0807 toll-free. We can help answer your questions in the course of a FREE attorney case review, and send you a copy of our valuable client report, Who Pays the Bills When You Are Injured at Work?