As a service for Insider readers who do not follow the Flathead Beacon, we bring you the western Montana saga of Brock Hopkins, who either was or was not an employee of Great Bear Adventures when he had a great bear adventure of his own, much to his detriment. Hopkins, 23 at the time, appears to have been an occasional worker at the seasonal attraction. On November 2, 2007, he showed up at the park, took a few hits on his marijuana pipe (not prescribed by a doctor) and checked in with the park owner, Russell Kilpatrick, who was on the phone at the time.
Kilpatrick wanted Hopkins to repair a gate. After completing the task, Hopkins went to ask Kilpatrick if there was anything else that needed doing, but Kilpatrick was asleep (hibernating?). So Hopkins, after carefully placing his marijuana pipe on a storage shed outside the bear pen, mixed up some feed and entered the pen. He was attacked by a bear and sustained severe injuries to his legs. He barely managed to crawl out of the pen.
Contract of Hire
In subsequent court proceedings, Kilpatrick argued that Hopkins was a volunteer at the park. While he denies asking Hopkins to feed the bears, he admits that he did ask him to adjust the gate. And, yes, he did slip him $300 shortly after he was released from the hospital.
Judge James Jeremiah Shea, of the Montana Workers' Compensation Court, disagreed with Kilpatrick. In his written decision, Judge Shea managed to reference the (marijuana stoked) comedy, "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle:"
"It is not as if this attack occurred when Hopkins inexplicably wandered into the grizzly pen while searching for the nearest White Castle. Hopkins was attacked while performing a job Kilpatrick had paid him to do - feeding grizzly bears."
Kilpatrick denies asking Hopkins to feed bears, who may or may not have needed feeding. And one might be inclined to raise the issue of the marijuana impeding Hopkins's judgment. Judge Shea took these factors into account and concluded that there was contradictory testimony on the issue of feeding the bears and most important, even though Hopkins smoked marijuana on the job, his being stoned was not a significant contributory factor in the injury. (If Hopkins could fix a gate while stoned, he could presumably feed the bears.)
Kilpatrick is appealing the ruling. He has a high mountain to climb if he wants to prove that Hopkins was not an employee. I'm not sure he is helping his cause when he indignantly stated the following:
"I became very very angry because I then knew what had happened. In my opinion Brock could not resist one last time of harassing the bears with his habit of blowing smoke in their faces for God only knows what reason and in direct defiance of my telling him NOT to disturb them!!!"
Alas, Kilpatrick is learning a tough lesson in management: you are responsible for the (stupid) actions of people who perform work-related tasks for you, whether or not you formally hired them - and in this case, whether or not you specifically asked them to perform a given task. (If a supervisor is napping, employees are pretty much on their own.)
The fact that Hopkins was prone to blowing smoke at the bears and Kilpatrick still allowed him on the property weakens his case considerably. (As Hopkins left his pipe on the shed prior to entering the pen, it is unlikely that he provoked the bear in this particular manner on that fateful day.)
Meanwhile, the youthful Hopkins has knee problems and possibly permanent muscle damage. He may want to find himself a medical practitioner to write him a script for marijuana, which is available legally in Montana. Blowing smoke can ease the pain, as long as you don't direct it into the face of a sleepy or hungry bear.