Safety and OSHA News

Can she get workers’ comp for injuries from drunk driving crash?

Her boss asked her to join co-workers for drinks after work. She did but while she was driving home, she crashed her car. Her blood alcohol level was three times the limit. Now she suffers from quadriplegia. Should workers’ comp pay for her care?

Ashley Schutz worked for O’Brien Constructors in Oregon as an office manager. She reported to several project managers.

One of them, Keeley O’Brien, the son of the company’s owner, invited Schutz for drinks after work.

She declined four or five times, but finally decided to go because she believed getting along with her boss and being a “team player” was important to advancing at the company.

Schutz drank at least four 24-ounce beers. Her boss paid for her drinks.

On her way home, she drove the wrong direction onto a highway and collided head-on with another car.

Schutz suffered severe injuries, including quadriplegia. Her blood-alcohol level was .24 when she was admitted to the hospital.

She filed a workers’ comp claim. O’Brien Constructors denied the claim, and Schutz appealed. An administrative law judge upheld the denial, as did the Workers’ Compensation Board.

The most recent development in this case: Schutz went to an Oregon appeals court which has handed down its decision.

‘Motivation to participate?’

The WC Board determined that, because O’Brien hadn’t pressured or encouraged Schutz to drink alcohol, becoming intoxicated wasn’t a risk that resulted from the nature of her work as an office manager or a risk she was exposed to in her work environment.

Schutz said the real question was whether she was motivated to drink because of work-related reasons. If she was, Schutz says she should receive comp benefits.

The court rejected that line of thought. Its decision says:

“Even if [Schutz’s] injuries would not be excluded from compensability because her primary motive to attend the after-work event was work-related, it does not follow that her intoxication and the injuries that resulted from it arose out of her employment.”

For that reason, the appeals court agreed with the WC Board that Schutz shouldn’t receive workers’ comp benefits for her injuries (opinion PDF).

What do you think about the decision in this case? Let us know in the comments below.

(Schutz v. O’Brien Constructors, Court of Appeals of OR, No. A148840, 11/15/12)

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  • Willy

    It’s a sad case but because it was after work like the article states she is not entitled. It was her choice to drink 4 beers. She could have had a soda and still accomplished her goal as being a team player.

  • pbrown

    I agree with the decision. She should know when enough is enough and she knew she would be driving home. Should could have went out and not drank or just had one or two to where she was still under the limit. And she didn’t have to go at all. She wasn’t forced and it wasn’t mandatory. I do think that the boss paying for the drinks wasn’t a very smart move on his part.

  • DMac

    We are agreed. I do not understand how there could be a question in this day and age about getting behind the wheel after drinking. While I have sympathy for the young lady – it was her decision, and hers alone to drink the alcohol then drive. This WC Board got it right.

  • JHSchwelm

    Drunk driving is against the law. You take your chances. Either way the group got it right. There is a similiar claim in PA that went the other way.

  • T. Harris

    I do agree that this is not an WC case. It would seems to me that the boss and coworkers did not take enough time or care to help her. “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” is what is really missing from this equation.

  • BillR

    The pressures to be a “team player” are so subtle that we easily overlook them. It allows an escape by the initiator if something goes wrong. A boss invites a subordinate to “join co-workers for drinks after work.” Having “… declined four or five times, but finally decided to go ( believing that ) getting along with her boss and being a ‘team player was important…” The comment, “Her boss paid for her drinks” signaled a very clear action that as others have observed was not, “…a smart move on his part.”
    What I didn’t see in the article was something to clarify the question of how able was the individual to make an informed decision about whether to drive or not?” She was invited by her boss. She was a member of the party as well as an employee at an event initiated by the boss. Where does, “Don’t let friends drive drunk” come to bear here? If the event was initiated by the boss, it could appear that the activity was somewhat sponsored by the work place.
    The WC Board ruled on whether the individual was eligible for Workers Comp. But it seems clear that it sure was an easy road out for everyone but the individual.
    My observation is meant to address the issue of events where there is a clear invitation to participate that speaks volumes about “Motivation.” “…(Not) pressured or encouraged..?” The invitation was pressure enough. The boss paying for the drinks.. could sure be encouraging.
    I ask… does this very situation need some consideration about what leads up to the incident and do we continue to disregard the subtleties of “Motivation to Participate” regarding workplace dynamics in it. My final observation, the fact that the indiviual drank the quantity of alcohol does seem to indicate an inability to judge how she was going to be affected by it. I didn’t hear any indication that she was bordering on depression that could have accounted for the amount. So the pressure of the situation could be the remaining determinate.

  • Connie

    Agree with the Appeals Court & WC decision. I am so sorry for her injuries, but it was after work and her decision to drink so much & then get behind the wheel of her car. So sad.

  • KennyD

    I have been in management for 16 years and although I’ve been invited/encouraged to attend “after hours” get-togthers, I don’t drink and have never felt pressured to do so. I think her accident is very unfortunate, but I also feel that her decision to drink, to that extent, was her own.

    Assuming that her co-workers knew how much she drank, I’m very disappointed that they even allowed her to drive home. I have always felt that they highest ranking officer(s) has a moral obligation to ensure the safety of all attendees to/at/from these type events.

    The consequences of driving under the influence are not a new phenomenon.

  • Grace Morrison

    I have been in her very situation many times with being invited to go for drinks with co-workers and bosses after work. I go from time to time but drink soda instead of alcohol. It is important to maintain a professional demeanor at all time when representing yourself as a professional or the company you work for. I agree with the WC Board and the court’s decision, she should not be eligible for benefits as it was a voluntary act outside of work.

  • DMac

    Bill – well written comments, however, in my opinion this is where we have big issues in this country – not just safety, but all around us in every area of our lives. We have crafted arguments to validate whatever issue is at hand, whether it be being late for work, running up too much debt, drug use….whatever. Just like this lady, and yes I have sympathy for her, but whether the boss bought the drinks, whether she was encouraged to participate, etc, all serve to validate that it was someone elses fault instead of placing the accountability fully where it needs to be – especially with Driving Under the Influence. Sorry, at this point, I AM NOT ACCEPTING ANY EXCUSES FOR DRUNK DRIVING! This article does not indicate that the boss or co-workers were even in the bar when she left, and we do not know that it was not suggested that she take a cab or was offered a ride home and refused.

  • TedBean

    This is not a WC case. The boards and court were right. However, some people are more susceptible to social pressure than others. Encouraging a subordinate to drink to excess should involve some liability. The boss paid for the drinks, he should also have paid for a taxi.

  • Jeff H.

    I agree with the decision!! However, I believe that the manager exercised a high level of stupidity in allowing her to drink in excess. Even though the company was not and should not be liable for her decision to drink so heavily and drive the manager will have to live with the fact that he had was a contributing factor to this incident.

    • Justin

      I disagree… Should the boss have stepped in, sure, is the boss a contributing factor? NO… People need to take responsibility for their own actions… ONLY if he encouraged the worker to drive home does it fall into his lap…

  • SafetyLady

    While I am sorry for the lady, the courts and WC Board got this one right. People need to take responsibility for themselves. Thank goodness the It wasn’t my fault because………….. didn’t work here.

  • KennyD

    DMac, you make an excellent closing point: We all share in your sympathy for the situation, but accountability needs to fall on her. Had she struck and killed another driver or pedestrian, you wouldn’t have seen any of her co-workers in handcuffs.

  • Robert Inouye

    I agree with DMac in his response to BillR, people need to be accountable for their own actions. It has become too easy to blame other people for mistakes when the reality is that we all have choices.

  • Robert Anderson

    If this occurred in Massachusetts, the WC board would most likely decide in favor of the injured party. I am surprised that the injured person did not file a General Liabilty claim as well which agin in Mass would most likely favor the injured party. A could attorney will get her benefits needed.

  • http://www.sddt.com Pat T

    DMac & Robert Inouye, well said!! Totally agree with the decision. I have been invited to such “after work” events by my bosses. I do not drink alcohol & haven’t for the last almost 21 years by choice & all are aware of this. This is just another point to consider ….. she didn’t have to drink any alcohol. In this day & age, I think most people would be understanding if one doesn’t indulge. If she felt “pressure” to drink, the decision to do so is on her regardless as to whomever initiated the event and/or paid for the drinks

  • Willy

    Robert Anderson, I believe you meant to state “a good dishonest attorney will get her benefits needed.”
    Anyway, her auto insurance should get her whats needed unless she made the wrong choice with that and didn’t have any

  • Edwin

    I agree with the decision. I also agree with Willy, it was her choice to drink 4 beers when she could have had a soda instead.