Intoxication – Not a Bar to Worker’s Compensation Benefits in New Jersey

Submitted by New Jersey Worker’s Compensation Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

This morning New Jersey’s Appellate Division handed down a decision in Antonio Diaz v. National Retail Transportation, Inc., stating an employee can be entitled to Worker’s Compensation benefits even if the employee is intoxicated at the time of injury.  In Diaz, a mechanic was injured on the job when he attempted to move a heavy lift that fell over on him.  The lift weighed several hundred pounds and had two tires that could be used to tilt and move the lift.  The mechanic contended the lift fell on him because one of the tires was flat.  However, the mechanic’s blood sample was taken after the accident and revealed a blood alcohol level of at least .173% at the time of the accident.  The mechanic admitted to having at least two eight-ounce glasses consisting of half whiskey and half ice and water.

Worker’s Compensation and the Intoxication Defense

When the mechanic applied for Worker’s Compensation benefits after the injury, his employer raised a defense of intoxication.  Ordinarily, a successful intoxication defense is a complete bar to Worker’s Compensation benefits.  However, New Jersey law places a burden on the employer to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that intoxication was the only reason for the employee’s injury.  The mechanic’s employer did not meet that burden despite the mechanic admitting to his drunkenness. The Court ruled that because it is possible the flat tire may have also caused the lift to fall, the intoxication was not the only reason for the mechanic’s injury.  Therefore, the employer’s intoxication defense could not stand, and the mechanic was awarded Worker’s Compensation benefits.

This ruling provides strong protection for injured employees.  An employee who is found to be intoxicated at the time of injury can still collect Worker’s Compensation benefits.  The employer has to show that there was no other possible to cause of the injury, otherwise Worker’s Compensation benefits will be awarded.

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