Safety and OSHA News

Case of the pot-smoking worker mauled by bear: Part 2


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:

  1. Whether Hopkins was employed by Kilpatrick at the time of the attack
  2. Whether Hopkins was in the course and scope of his employment at the time of his injuries
  3. Whether marijuana use was the major contributing cause of Hopkins’ injuries, and
  4. Whether Hopkins was performing service for Kilpatrick in return for aid or sustenance only.

The supreme court ruled:

  1. 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.'”
  2. 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.”
  3. The worker’s comp court decided correctly that Hopkins’ use of marijuana wasn’t the major contributing factor that caused his injuries.
  4. 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)

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  1. Another safety guy says:

    Wow, an actuall intelligent, rational, well thought out court ruling.

  2. Depends on the companie’s policy toward drug usage and state law. Don’t really understand the whole “volunteer” excuse the employer was using, either he was getting paid or he wasn’t.
    Not really enough info, since I do not know state law or company policy.
    Stay safe,

  3. Unfortunately, this is true. Even though he was stupid enough to smoke pot before feeding bears it did happen on the employers property and no doubt he was an employee. The bear may have attacked him even if he wasn’t high. How could anyone be that stupid is beyond me.

  4. George Colby says:

    Yeah, they got this one right.

    I still couldn’t help but laugh while I read it though. The catch-phrases “mind-bogglingly stupid” and grizzlies are “equal opportunity maulters” will now be in my vocabulary!

  5. Hopkins was employed, he did keep the bears alive and looking healthy thusly attracting additional customers= Increased revenue, he was duly compensated and could afford marijuana. Russell Kilpatrick should pay medical or other damages because he didn’t buy workers’ comp insurance. Evidently Kilpatrick did not perform a risk analysis for ‘Feeding the Bears’. The court ruled in a common sense manner.


  7. I think that smoking pot before interacting with an animal that can kill you is probably not a good idea and who really knows what transpired immediatly preceding the attack. If the worker was “high as a kite”, not following proper procedure and antagonizing the bear in ways he wouldn’t if he was not high, then he should not recieve comp. If he was following procedures and did nothing different than on a normal mornings feeding and the bear attacked, then he should be awarded comp. For me, not enough facts have been presented to make a determination. Show me the facts. I’m sure the courts had all the facts.

  8. Safety1 says:

    If an employee was injured at our facility and was found to have drugs in their system: 1, they would not be covered by workers comp. 2. they would be terminated. So, the issues with the bear attack, the employee was working and on drugs, no differnet than any other employhee who gets injured and is under the influence.

  9. Safety Guy says:

    Even if he wasn’t getting paid cash. If he was receiving a rental room or working for food that is employment or bartering for something else is still work if that is compensation for a said job. I agree that bears are equal opportunity maulers. Unless this particular bear had an allergy to Marijuana LOL. Highly unlikely. In any event workman’s comp is to ensure the owner against the stupidity of this world.

  10. Most states would award workers’ comp even if drugs are in his system. In my state IL, he would be terminated but unless he unlawfully violated a serious safety procedure he would be awared WC. Unfortunately, 9 out of 10 cases will be awarded WC just because it happened on company property

  11. I am guessing the (employee) has done this before, getting high before coming to help or work and the bear never attacked him, but he must have let his guard down and as we read he was attacked. He was working for some cash and should be compensated for something.

  12. I was wondering what do pot smoking has to do with being mauled by a bear? Bears do have a keen since of smell. Perhaps the bear got a contact and responded to getting high. The bear could have killed him, instead the act of a bear being high just bit him. Of course, not knowing his own strength. I believe the bear sent the message, “Don’t come in here smelling like that again.” Pretty good lesson. The “employer” was too darn stupid trying to get out of paying for his mistake. If he really wanted to point fault at “mind-bogglingly stupid” person, he should have gotten an anthropoligist. The behavior of animals on weed! Otherwise, pay the man.

  13. @Safety1, which state are you in? I have heard of positive drug tests resulting in a reduction of WC benefits but not a complete denial of benefits.

  14. Safety Guy says:

    Amen Big O. When someone comes to my house smelling like smoke it annoys the hell out of me. Maybe the bear was having the same primordial response. Show him how much you hate it so he doesn’t do it again LOL.

  15. it goes to show you must interact with your employees every do to see the signs and stop it before some thing likes this happens. we must pay attention!

  16. When you have people like Hopkins “mind-bogglingly stupid” helping you that is the risk taken.
    The employer has to then take the responsibility of making sure the help is not “mind-bogglingly stupid” and take precautions to have “mind-bogglingly stupid” help and/or injuries to happen.
    Kilpatrick was as much at fault, I hate to admit.

  17. There must be a way to feed the bears without going inside the bear compound. Animals in general get a little agitated when it’s feeding time, and they don’t want other animals around that may be perceived as competition for the food. Also, the employer should consider a drug abuse prevention program, with random screening to either encourage employees to quit doing drugs, or to terminate those who are affected on the job. Obviously in this case someone knew the employee was drugged after the fact. Conducting a drug screen after an incident has occurred may be informative, but it’s like closing the barn door after the horse has already escaped. Prevention is the key, especially when it comes to griz.

  18. we do have a drug abuse program, however, the employee must come to us before being tested and found positive. If an employee comes forward we help them to get into a rehab and they don’t lose their job. Although they will be randomally drug tested for 12 months. However, if they have an injury and test positive they are teminated. I have never seen a WC claim completely denied due to drug use. The injury still happened at the place of employment

  19. I agree with Greg. It appears this “bear park” operates in the same manner as would a zoo, i.e. the bears are kept in compounds, enclosures, etc. and as such should have had a means of feeding the bears w/out having to go into the compound. It would be no different than feeding lions, tigers and/or other animals that have the propensity to attack; I’ve seen where there’s an area in which they “slide” the food in to feed them.

    I think the court’s ruling was right, based on what was given. I don’t think that the guy being high on marijuana made him more susceptible to the attack or impaired. I think these days, what with all this bit about “medicinal marijuana”, it probably helped ease some of his pain during the attack!!

  20. @Big O. I was just wondering about that. Did the bear react to the smell of marijuana? I guess we will have to wait until a specialist responds.

  21. I feel sorry for the bear. Sound like neither the owner nor the caretaker were playing with a full deck.

  22. The transcript of the Montana Supreme Court ruling contains several ‘gems’ relating to the case. The first item is that the owner (Kilpatrick) also was a pot smoker and reportedly had done so, on occasion, with the plaintiff (Hopkins). The second item is that pot smoking was apparently common among employees on Kilpatrick’s spread. The third item is that the owner had specifically called Hopkins to come to the property (on which the owner lived) and help fix the outer board fence so that the boards would stick to the ground in the cold weather. The fourth item is that Hopkins had asked the owner if he should feed the bears that morning. He never received a direct answer, but by the time Hopkins was ready to do so, the owner was asleep…

    It sounds like the Bear Park should have as its slogan “Wasting Away in Montanaville” (with apologies to Jimmy Buffett).

    Mr. Hopkins did get his Worker’s Comp – but he also got his butt chewed.

  23. Correction to my post – it should read: “…so that the boards would NOT stick to the ground.”

  24. KEY POINT: Whether or not the claimant was /was not smoking pot has NOTHING to do with compensation claim.
    It sure makes for some laughs, and chuckles in the header though. And, it got a lot of people to read the article =AD REVENUE$$. I think it should be apparent to most that smoking pot per se should not be the basis for denial of an injury claim; no one can dispute the guy got injured. It should also be apparent that this story merely scratches the surface of a copious load of documents that tell the “real story” KUDOS TO BLACKGOLD FOR DOING THE RESEARCH THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN THE ARTICLE;>

  25. Well, it seems like personal responsibility no longer matters. It is OK now to be “mind-bogglingly stupid.” Perhaps Kilpatrick had to pay because he is “mind-bogglingly stupid” for hiring Hopkins. Neither seems especially intelligent. Employers must ensure they tell “mind-bogglingly stupid” employees, “mind-bogglingly stupid” customers, and probably “mind-bogglingly stupid” vendors not to do things most morons know not to do. Let’s give three cheers for lawyers who have made the legal system so “mind-bogglingly stupid” that there is little, if any, justice left.

    I wonder how many comments didn’t make this blog because their authors were also “mind-bogglingly stupid” and unable to complete the simple math question to prove they are human. Based on the spelling and grammar errors found here, being “mind-bogglingly stupid” is apparently an obvious trend.

  26. Hmmm…I get it and I appreciate the additional info from Blackgold, but I still don’t like it. I hate the precedent it sets. Take-out the bear mauling and bear park. Replace it with amputated finger and factory floor. Now, in this context, if one of my employees does sometning “mind bogglingly stupid”, while high as a kite, I am not happy about having to pay.

    Kilpatrick is actually lucky that he was protected by the stuctural limits of the WC system. If the injured worker were able to file civil suit, it would have been much worse for Kilpatrick.

  27. Sounds like Hopkins owes the bear that attacked Red some special chow because that bears actions likely saved his life! Mind bogglingly stupid doesn’t begin to define entering a dangerous situation knowingly impaired, but I have to agree that the bear likely would have attacked regardless. We hear of zookeepers periodically being killed by the animals they care for with no reports of drug usage. Lets face it, these are large wild unpredicatable animals that react in a manner that has no regard for ANY safety policy set in place.

  28. I think the guy smoked pot next to the bear and the bear got the munchies

  29. Christina says:

    Working in the insurance field for nearly 25 years, it never surprises me to see this type of claim anymore. Wouldn’t have mattered if he was an employee, volunteer or guest on the property, he would have been compensated. Having it go under work comp, his payment for injuries will likely be far less than if he were a volunteer or guest. Injuries from captive animals usually fall under ‘strict liability’ meaning no matter how responsible the injured person is (ie; getting high and playing with bears) The negligence burden does not have to exist for payment under Liability coverage.

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