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California law provides that an injury that occurs at work is not compensable (basically it’s not a workers’ compensation injury for which you can get benefits and treatment) if the injury is, “caused by the intoxication, by alcohol or the unlawful use of a controlled substance, of the injured employee.” That comes from Labor Code section 3600(a)(4). The key portion of that statute is the “caused by” portion. There are essentially three elements that must be shown by the employer to prevent the payment of benefits on such a claim.
First, the employer must show the injured worker drank or ingested alcohol or other unlawful controlled substances. This may be shown by medical reports or testing, or it may be shown by testimony from the injured employee or other employees.
Second, the employer must show the injured worker was intoxicated. The word “intoxicated” is not defined in the Labor Code, but it generally will mean that the employer must show some sort of impaired judgment, or impaired motion or physical ability. A blood test alone may not be enough, as the employer generally needs to not only show the use or consumption of the alcohol or substance, but impairment due to it.
Third, the employer must show the intoxication was the cause of the injury. The general rule is that the employer must show the intoxication was the proximate cause or a substantial factor in causing the injury. It does not have to be the only cause, but it does have to play a significant role in causing the injury. This portion of the analysis is very fact dependent. For example, in some cases the injured worker had a blood alcohol level many times the legal limit, and doctors explained that anyone's reaction time would be significantly impaired at that point. Those cases tend to be non-industrial. However, when the injured worker had been drinking but a sober person could have been injured in a similar fashion, the cases tend to be industrial.
Needless to say, there are a number of variables at play in the three elements above, and there is quite a bit of case law addressing intoxication. If you have questions about your workers' compensation case and want to talk to an attorney in Fresno, call 559-408-7436 or fill out the form to the right.