Texas Workers' Compensation Defense: Employee Was Injured While Intoxicated
The Texas Workers' Compensation system was created to allow employees, who work for businesses that subscribe to workers' compensation coverage, to receive automatic benefits that act as compensation for people who are injured while working. Before workers' compensation came into existence, work injury cases were treated like personal injury cases because an injured employee had to sue his or her employer in order to receive compensation. This process lead to lengthy court cases, and it made for an uncomfortable situation between the employer and the employee. Texas law makers understood the need to reform the system into one that was less confrontational and more claim-based, which lead to the workers' compensation coverage.
In theory, our state's workers' compensation system operates on the assumption that the employer always has to cover the worker's injuries. However, there are several defenses, created by Texas lawmakers, that allow an employer to deny benefits to an injured worker if the defense can be successfully proven. One of these defenses is known as the "intoxicated employee" defense. If an employer's attorneys can prove an employee was intoxicated at the time of the accident, the employee would be denied all workers compensation benefits.
This defense is used quite often because the law is a little fuzzy about the definition of intoxication. In the article, Texas workers' compensation attorney Michael Grossman explains the "intoxicated employee" defense and how it could impact your workers' comp case.
Questions answered on this page:
- What does the law say about intoxicated employees who are injured on the job?
- Why do employee have to get tested for drugs and alcohol when they are injured in a work accident?
- When can an employer use the intoxicated employee defense in a workers' comp case?
- How can a lawyer help me if my employer is refusing to pay my workers' comp benefits?
Workers' Compensation Defense Overview
Under the Texas Labor Code, there are eight defenses available to employers that allow them the opportunity to deny workers' compensation benefits to injured workers. Those defenses are:
- Act of God
- Self-Inflicted Injury
- Intentional Harm Done by a Co-worker
- Injury Caused by Recreational Activity
- Contributing Injury That Occurred Before the Accident
- Not Within Course and Scope of Employment
- Employee Intoxication
While only a few defenses exist under the Texas Labor Code, if an employer can prove even one defense, the employee will receive absolutely no compensation benefits.
How The Defense Against an Intoxicated Employee Works
In a normal personal injury case, if the plaintiff (the injured person who filed the lawsuit) alleges that the defendant who hurt them was negligent, the defendant gets to argue back against the plaintiff in a couple of ways. One such way is for the defendant to argue that the plaintiff was intoxicated at the time of the accident, and, if the jury feels that the intoxication was a significant factor in the CAUSE of the plaintiff's injuries, then the plaintiff can get a reduced amount of compensation. That said, the jury may also find that the plaintiff was intoxicated but rule that it was just a coincidence, and that the intoxication had nothing to do with the cause of the accident.
However, in a TX workers' compensation case, the scenario above would not apply. The question of whether or not the intoxication played a role in the accident is never considered. Instead, the mere fact that the injured worker was intoxicated means he or she is disqualified from receiving workers' compensation benefits at all. To put it simply, the presence of drugs or alcohol may hurt a normal personal injury case, but it completely destroys a workers' compensation case.
If you have ever wondered why employers always make injured workers get drug tested, this is why. The hint of any intoxicating substance in the employee's blood stream provides the employer with a "get out of jail free" card.
The Problem With The Intoxication Defense
The problem with this defense lies in the fact that the statute clearly states that an injured employee doesn't qualify for workers' comp benefits if he or she was intoxicated at the time of the accident, yet what constitutes intoxication isn't exactly crystal clear.
The Texas Labor Code section 401.013 states:
Sec. 401.013. DEFINITION OF INTOXICATION:
- (a) In this subtitle, "intoxication" means the state of:
- (1) having an alcohol concentration to qualify as intoxicated under Section 49.01(2), Penal Code; or
- (2) not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties resulting from the voluntary introduction into the body of:
- (A) an alcoholic beverage, as defined by Section 1.04, Alcoholic Beverage Code;
- (B) a controlled substance or controlled substance analogue, as defined by Section 481.002, Health and Safety Code;
- (C) a dangerous drug, as defined by Section 483.001, Health and Safety Code;
- (D) an abusable glue or aerosol paint, as defined by Section 485.001, Health and Safety Code; or
- (E) any similar substance, the use of which is regulated under state law.
It's easy to see the problem with this language. Even though having your claim denied is a black-and-white issue, the definition of intoxication is largely open to interpretation. So, if you were indeed extremely intoxicated at the time of the injury, case closed, you don't qualify to receive workers' comp benefits.
But imagine this scenario instead: Imagine a workers named Tim was went to Chili's on his lunch break and had a couple of beers. He is well below the legal limit, and a man of his age and stature isn't likely to appear intoxicated or impaired with that much alcohol in his system. Imagine that Tim gets ran over by a forklift driven by a co-worker upon returning to his job. If one of Tim's lunch companions mentions to the boss that Tim had a few beers, the employer would definitely try to deny his claim.
Texas Workers' Compensation Attorney Michael Grossman Can Help
A good work injury attorney is often the thin line between a workers' comp carrier unfairly arguing the intoxication defense and then employee getting what the law entitles them to. If the defense is being used unfairly, don't just take it lying down. Get the compensation you deserve for your work injury. Call our workers' compensation attorneys at Grossman Law Offices, based in Dallas, TX, at (855) 326-0000 for a free consultation.
Related Articles for Further Reading:
- (a) In this subtitle, "intoxication" means the state of: