Supreme Court of Alaska (2022)
In Worker’s Compensation Benefits Guaranty Fund v. Adams, 518 P.3d 280 (Alaska 2022), the supreme court held that a worker’s compensation fund seeking to find an injury non-compensable due to intoxication must show that the worker was intoxicated at the time of the incident, and that the intoxication was the proximate cause of the injury. (Id. at 285). A worker fell 30 feet off a roof after the cribbing under his ladder gave way, leaving him permanently disabled. (Id. at 282). The worker admitted to drinking beer and using cocaine before the accident, and to not inspecting the cribbing. (Id.). The paramedic on the scene testified that the worker admitted to drinking but did not appear intoxicated; hospital tests indicated that the worker had alcohol on his breath and cocaine in his system. (Id.). The worker filed a workers’ compensation claim, and the fund denied benefits based on his intoxication. (Id.). The fund presented as an expert witness a doctor who testified that alcohol and cocaine would likely alter the worker’s judgment, but who could not determine the worker’s level of intoxication or possible substance tolerance. (Id. at 282–83). The Alaska Worker’s Compensation Board rejected the fund’s defenses and held for the worker, and the Worker’s Compensation Appeals Commission affirmed. (Id. at 284). On appeal, the supreme court affirmed the Appeals Commission’s decision, reasoning that there was sufficient evidence to support the Board’s finding. (Id. at 289). The court explained that, while Alaska law prohibits compensation for an injury “proximately caused by intoxication of the injured employee,” the burden was on the fund to show that the employee’s mental or physical faculties were impaired by the use of drugs, and that the impairment was the “but-for” proximate cause of the injury. (Id. at 285). The fund did not show the worker’s level of impairment, whether the cribbing would have collapsed on its own, or whether the worker would have inspected the cribbing had he not ingested alcohol and cocaine. (Id. at 286–87). Thus, the fund did not meet its burden of showing that the worker’s impairment was the cause of his injury. (Id. at 289). Affirming the Commission’s decision, the supreme court held that a worker’s compensation fund seeking to find an injury non-compensable due to intoxication must show that the worker was intoxicated, and that the intoxication was the proximate cause of the injury. (Id. at 285).