What Do You Think: Was Caretaker’s ATV Rollover Caused by 3 Beers and 2 Shots — or 1 Excitable Dog?

06 Apr, 2024 Chris Parker

                               

Beulah, WY (WorkersCompensation.com) – In Wyoming, an injury is not an “injury” for workers’ compensation purposes if it was caused by intoxication. But what if some intervening event caused or was partially responsible for the accident?

In one case, a country club caretaker argued both that he wasn’t intoxicated and that his intoxication didn’t cause an accident that left him with an open ankle fracture. 

The caretaker lived on the premises full time with his family. He was expected to be on the site daily. He could fish and tube in the creek and engage in other activities.

On June 13, 2021, after performing his rounds of the property, the caretaker and his wife went to the local trading post for brunch. While there, he consumed alcohol. Afterward, he loaded tubes into an ATV and went to the creek. On the way, his dog darted in front of the vehicle. He swerved to avoid the dog and rolled the ATV on its side. His left foot got caught underneath the tire, fracturing his ankle. 

He admitted to the paramedic that he had three beers and two shots about two hours prior to the accident and told the emergency room doctor that he had consumed some alcohol. An ER nurse noticed that his speech was slurred. Laboratory testing showed his blood alcohol level at 7 p.m., hours after the accident, was 0.183%. 

The Workers’ Compensation Division denied the caretaker’s claim, concluding that the accident was caused by the caretaker’s intoxication.

The court explained that Wyoming workers’ compensation law excludes from the definition of injury one which is caused by the fact that the employee is intoxicated. Further, under state regulations, a BAC at or above 0.08 means the employee is "intoxicated." 

Was the ankle injury compensable?
AYes. The dog caused the accident.
B. No. It was not an “injury,” given the caretaker's alcohol level.

If you selected B, you agreed with the court in Nagel v. State of Wyoming, No. S-23-0147 (Wyo. 02/01/24), which affirmed the decision that the employee’s intoxication caused the accident.

The court pointed out that to establish the intoxication exclusion, the party opposing benefits must show intoxication was a substantial factor in bringing about the injury. “[U]under our precedent, intoxication need only be a cause of the injury, not the cause,” the court wrote.

Consequently, the court rejected the caretaker’s assertion that his dog was at least partially to blame because the dog ran in front of the vehicle. It was sufficient, the court noted, if the caretaker’s lack of sobriety was a substantial factor in the accident.

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The court also pointed to the input of the club’s medical expert, who stated that, given the caretaker’s BAC, he would have been impaired at the time of the accident, and that his conclusion was consistent with the nurse’s observation that the caretaker’s speech was slurred. In fact, the expert pointed out that the caretaker’s BAC would have been higher at the time of the accident, which occurred hours before the lab testing was done.

Finally, the court rejected the argument that the club knew and acquiesced to the caretaker’s on-the-job consumption of alcohol.  The employee, the court noted, admitted that he was not required to consume alcohol as part of his job; he could have said no.

The court affirmed the denial of the claim.


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