Injury By Intoxication

Employee intoxication may bar recovery of worker’s compensation benefits if it gives rise to abandonment of employment duties by virtue of physical or mental inability to perform duties. This rule is far from an absolute employer defense. It is best illustrated by comparison of the following two examples.

In one case, an intoxicated salesman who fell out of his car was found to be physically and mentally incapable of performing his employment duties. The salesman’s intoxication constituted a disqualifying fact since he was unable to work and thus his injury could not arise from his employment.

In another case, an intoxicated coal driver fell out of his seat as he drove his wagon in the course of performing his employment duties. Here, the driver’s intoxication did not constitute a disqualifying act since the driver was not too intoxicated to actually drive the wagon in the course of his duties. The court explained that compensation should not be denied on the basis of employee intoxication unless the employee is so intoxicated that he is physically or mentally unable to perform his employment duties, because under such a scenario, the injury could not have occurred within the scope of employment.

Contrary to the above rationale, Texas precludes the recovery of benefits under all scenarios where an employee is intoxicated at the time of injury. The rule blindly denies benefits even where intoxication does not cause the injury. For example, the rule bars recovery where an intoxicated factory worker is electrocuted by faulty machinery despite the fact that the same injury would result even if he were not intoxicated.

The Texas rule is contrary to the rationale of worker’s compensation law generally. In most circumstances, intoxication is punishable by a small fine or a night in jail. However, under Texas law, intoxication without other fault may result in a claimant’s disqualification that might otherwise entitle him to benefits. An average member of the community would pay a small fine for his intoxication, but an employee must pay a huge penalty equal to his worker’s compensation benefits. Texas rule is punitive in nature and incongruent with the worker’s compensation paradigm.