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)