Safety and OSHA News

Fell down elevator shaft after drinking at work: Will he get comp?

A painter drank a fair amount of alcohol at work, took a nap, woke up and then fell down an elevator shaft. He applied for workers’ comp benefits, and his employer sought to deny them. How did a court rule in this case?

According to court documents, Shane Wood was a painter for Karr Painting and Decoration Inc. in Utah. One day he was painting the interior of a three-story Salt Lake City home that had an empty elevator shaft running from the first to third floor.

According to a co-worker, Wood spent the morning painting. Then at about 2 p.m., he started drinking alcohol and in two hours consumed a small bottle of whiskey and more than half a fifth of vodka. By 4 p.m. he had stopped working and took a nap in a closet for two hours.

After he woke up, he went up to the second floor but didn’t resume any work. He fell into the elevator shaft and suffered injuries.

When this case was heard the first time, an administrative law judge (ALJ) awarded Wood workers’ comp benefits because his injuries occurred at his job site during the workday.

On appeal, the Utah Labor Commission Appeals Board reversed the ALJ’s decision because he wasn’t fulfilling work duties and wasn’t engaged in an activity related to his work duties.

Wood took his case to the Utah Court of Appeals. He argued that his nap after drinking on the job didn’t constitute a departure from the course of his employment.

However, the appeals court agreed with the Board, saying there was no other reasonable interpretation of Woods’ activities — he had stopped working when he took the nap.

Next, Wood argued that even if he did leave the course of his employment during his nap, he returned to work when he woke up and began moving around the house, which was the job site.

Once again, the appeals court agreed with the Board that “in the short period between the time Mr. Wood awoke and the time he fell down the elevator shaft, there is no reasonable basis to conclude that Mr. Wood returned to his work duties or was engaged in any activity incidental to his work.”

Verdict: No comp for Wood.

(Wood v. Karr Painting and Decoration, Utah Court of Appeals, No. 20100932-CA, 1/26/12)

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  1. I agree.

  2. I agree too. There is no other way to look at it.

  3. Why was the consumption of alcohol not called into question? Is that a separate issue that would have no bearing on whether work comp is applicable?

  4. Unless he was inspecting the painted surfaces in the elevator shaft on the way down.

  5. Terry Clark says:

    I too agree, but find it interesting that the alcohol issue was not considered as part of this, just the sleeping on the job.

  6. Diane Larrivee says:

    Most states require proof that an employee was “intoxicated” and the intoxication was a major factor in causing a work related injury to the employee. In this case, the employee took a nap after drinking alcohol and although it is stated that the nap was approximately 2 hours in duration, we don’t know how much time elapsed before the employee was discovered following being injured and medical attention sought. Typically most companies conduct post accident drug testing but, a separate alcohol test must be requested. The earlier the drug or alcohol testing (btw I believe an alcohol blood test is more accurate then breath analysis) the higher levels (if any) will be detected in the employee’s system. It is most likely more difficult to prove intoxication as the major cause of an injury versus proving that the employee was in the course and scope of his employment and furthering his employers business.

  7. Good Karma says:

    Apparently drinking is part of his job description. Our employees would have told a supervisor that someone was drinking on the job when the first bottle came out.

  8. On a side note with the alcohol…maybe the employer knew the employee had a “problem” and accomodated it. SO if that would have came out in the case I would say then yes, it would be comp because the employer let it happen. However; the way this case reads…the courts got it right. No comp.
    We just had a similar case where I work. The employee did not appeal the insurance company decision to deny benefits.

  9. This goes to show how oblivious the world has become to actual dangers. Not one word of alcohol consumption on the job in the courts and only 2/5 of the replies even questioned it. How sad. But at least the no comp verdict was right!

  10. Are you kidding me? The moment he cracked the top off the bottle, he was off the clock. If he chose to consume alcohol during his work day, he is fully responsible for the subsequent behavior. The employer did not fail to provide a ‘safe and healthful working environment’, the employee created an unsafe one. Until we hold folks accountable for their actions and stop letting them hide behind both the ACLU and lawyers, we will continue to have these frivolous court cases that always end up costing the taxpayers money.

  11. Court got this one right. Drinking on the job at our company is immediate grounds for dismissal…period; it’s in our employee handbook that everyone’s seen/read. BTW, why was the elevator shaft not barricaded to prevent this type of accident? But then, if the employee was so drunk, I guess he could’ve “overlooked” it? Hmmm……….

  12. Alcohol was not an issue because it is perfectly legale to drink on the job. If it has been pot it would have been the lead issue no matter when it was consumed.

  13. Paduke, your telling us that it is “perfectly legal” to drink alcohol on the job. Even to the point that your staggering around not knowing your surroundings. And WC will still cover you if you get injured. I think you had a few to much to drink yourself.

  14. Glad the employer challenged. Now this loser can sue the homeowner for having an unsafe condition.

  15. Diane Larrivee says:

    In this case it appears to it was easier to deny the compensibility of the workers’ compensation claim based on the fact that the employee was not in the course and scope of his employment and not furthering his employers business. Proving intoxication can be problematic if the employer does not have clear drug testing/alcohol levels of consumption data to support the denial of compensiblity of an emplyee’s WC claim based on intoxication. Even having the employee’s drug/alcohol test results post injury/accident the employee’s height, weight, etc. is taken into consideration along with the length of time between the ingestion of the alcohol or drug(s) and the date and time the accident occurred. Most WC statutes consider whether or not the intoxication was a major factor in causing the injury….under WC a denial of compensibility is not based on whether the injestion of the drug(s) or alcohol was permitted (as I am sure most of you are aware, certain base lines for drugs and alcohol are typically established….you don’t want to have such strict levels that mouthwash which could carry small alcohol levels, prescription drugs at prescribed levels, etc. are not permitted under your drug testing program). People can drink alcohol the night before or week-end prior to arriving at work and still have traces of alcohol in their system when they arrive at work in the morning and not be considered intoxicated. The level of intoxication and whether the intoxication is a main contributing factor in the cause of the injury is considered in establishing whether or not an injury is compensable under WC.

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