April 1, 2011

Pot Smoking with Bears: Stupidity is (Still) Compensable

We last encountered Brock Hopkins back in June of 2010, when he had secured workers comp benefits for severe injuries incurred while feeding bears. He was a bit stoned at the time. Russell Kilpatrick, owner of Great Bear Adventures in Montana, contended that Hopkins was a volunteer. Judge Jeremiah Shea found in Hopkins's favor. Now the Supreme Court of Montana has weighed in, finding that Judge Shea got it right.

There were three major issues in determining compensability: whether Hopkins was an employee; whether he was in the course and scope of employment when attacked; and whether his marijuana use precluded payment of benefits.

Hopkins frequently worked in the park, performing minor repairs and, yes, feeding the bears.The pay was informal, but Kilpatrick would slip him some money now and then. This "exchange of money for favors" is, well, employment. Thus, Hopkins was an employee, working under the admittedly informal and ad hoc supervision of the laid-back Kilpatrick.

While it is not clear that Kilpatrick wanted the bears fed on the fateful day, he did not tell Hopkins not to feed them. And as Judge Shea deadpanned in his ruling: "...presumably, customers are unwilling to pay cash to see dead and emaciated bears." Hopkins, in other words, was working when he mixed up the feed, set down his marijuana pipe on a fence post and entered the enclosure.

Finally, the judge opined that smoking marijuana while working among bears was "ill-advised to say the least and mind-bogglingly stupid to say the most," being high was not a factor in the attack. Red, the attacking bear, was an "equal opportunity mauler" and likely would have gone after anyone, stoned or sober.

So Brock Hopkins, a loser by most accounts, wins in the courts. He collects indemnity for his (considerable) troubles and has all his extensive medical bills paid through the Montana uninsured fund. Kilpatrick's legal woes continue, as he did not carry workers comp insurance for the employees he didn't think he had. So much for clear thinking in the good mountain air of Montana.


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This page contains a single entry by Jon Coppelman published on April 1, 2011 1:16 PM.

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