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.