New Mexico may indeed be the Land of Enchantment, but it is certainly not the land of clear and concise legislative language. An attempt to clarify the law, to give judges more flexibility to deny all or most benefits to intoxicated workers who are injured on the job, was blocked last week by a House committee.
A 2006 case, involving a New Mexico garbage truck driver who fell off his truck and injured himself while drunk, prompted the attempt after the worker was awarded more than $100,000 in workers' compensation benefits. The New Mexico Court of Appeals suggested the change because of conflicting state laws on what injury benefits may be paid in the event an injury was found to have been influenced by, or the result of, alcohol use on the job.
The Court of Appeals “reluctantly” upheld the award, but indicated the legislature should address various statutes that provide conflicting information. Specifically, the justices wrote, "One 1989 statute bars compensation when an injury is ‘occasioned by the intoxication' of the worker. A related statute, enacted in 2001, says compensation can be reduced by 10 percent if intoxication or the influence of drugs is ‘a contributing cause to the injury."
Interesting language. I've been “occasioned by the intoxication” a time or two. Never fell off my garbage truck, however.
The bill before the house, HB 139, would, according to Rep. Dennis Roch, "clean up the contradictory laws and enable judges to make sound decisions based on the facts of each individual case."
Clearly New Mexico doesn't want that clarity or sound decision making process, as the House Labor and Human Resources Committee killed the bill. One of the members of the committee indicated that "There were some due process issues with it that were punitive to the worker".
I'm sure. Those due process issues would have prevented drunk government employees from getting their extended benefits. I know a bit about New Mexico politics, and I have no doubt that protecting government employee benefits was high on the agenda in this action. The worker whose accident started this discussion was an employee of the city of Las Cruces.
Frankly, I am just as concerned for the safety of the citizens around these workers' as I am the fact that their intoxication might contribute to an injury that is ruled compensable. The fact that the states politicians are more concerned with protecting violators of the most basic of safety standards versus the population that employs them speaks volumes.
Thoughts like that are enough to drive a guy to be occasioned by the intoxication……
Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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