Last year we told you the story of an employee who was mauled by a grizzly in a bear park after having smoked pot. The employee received workers’ comp. The employer appealed to the state’s highest court, which has issued a ruling.
Brock Hopkins entered a pen at Great Bear Adventures in West Glacier, MT, to feed grizzlies. The largest bear, Red, knocked Hopkins to the ground, sat on him, and bit his leg, knee and buttocks. Hopkins was only able to escape by crawling under an electrified fence when another bear bit Red. The employee suffered serious injuries.
Hopkins applied to the Montana Uninsured Employers’ Fund, because the bear park’s owner, Russell Kilpatrick, didn’t have workers’ comp insurance.
Hopkins admitted smoking pot on his way to work on the day he was mauled. A judge for the Workers’ Compensation Court of Montana called smoking pot before working with bears “mind-bogglingly stupid.” However, the court also said grizzlies are “equal opportunity maulers” that don’t care whether someone has been smoking pot and granted Hopkins comp benefits.
Kilpatrick and the Uninsured Employers’ Fund appealed to the Montana Supreme Court and raised four issues:
- Whether Hopkins was employed by Kilpatrick at the time of the attack
- Whether Hopkins was in the course and scope of his employment at the time of his injuries
- Whether marijuana use was the major contributing cause of Hopkins’ injuries, and
- Whether Hopkins was performing service for Kilpatrick in return for aid or sustenance only.
The supreme court ruled:
- There was no evidence Hopkins was just a volunteer. As the workers’ comp court stated, “There is a term of art used to describe the regular exchange of money for favors — it is called ‘employment.’”
- The supreme court agreed with the workers’ comp court’s finding that “Kilpatrick benefited from the care and feeding of the bears that Hopkins provided since presumably, customers are unwilling to pay cash to see dead and emaciated bears.”
- The worker’s comp court decided correctly that Hopkins’ use of marijuana wasn’t the major contributing factor that caused his injuries.
- Even though Kilpatrick claimed Hopkins wasn’t an employee, and that he was giving him money “out of his heart,” the workers’ comp court correctly found that not to be the case. Hopkins was an employee.
For those reasons, the Montana Supreme Court found that Hopkins should receive workers’ comp benefits for his bear-attack injuries.
What do you think about the court’s ruling? Let us know in the Comments Box below.
(Hopkins v. Uninsured Employers’ Fund, Supreme Court of MT, No. DA 10-0403, 3/22/11)