Skidder operator gets in three-vehicle accident after leaving job site with coworkers
A panel of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board of California found that an employer failed to prove an injured employee’s intoxication during an accident and that such intoxication caused the accident.
The applicant in the case of Hufford vs. Howell’s Forest Harvesting; State Compensation Insurance Fund worked as a skidder operator for Howell’s Forest Harvesting. In 2008, he was involved in a three-vehicle accident after leaving his job site with several coworkers.
An accident report made by the responding officer of California Highway Patrol found that the applicant had been trapped behind the vehicle’s steering wheel and recommended charging him with a “driving under the influence” (DUI) felony. The applicant was charged but acquitted of the offense.
The applicant claimed workers’ compensation for injuries to his bilateral lower extremities, internal system, and psyche and in the form of sleep disorder and sexual dysfunction.
The workers’ compensation administrative law judge refused to award compensation. The judge found that the applicant sustained no compensable injury arising out of and in the course of employment and had no entitlement to benefits because his intoxication was the injury’s proximate cause.
The panel of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board disagreed with the judge’s decision and instead found that the employee had compensable injuries to his bilateral lower extremities and that the employer failed to prove the intoxication defense. The panel deferred the other issues and returned the matter to the trial level.
Applicant not intoxicated, panel says
First, the panel ruled that the evidence did not establish that the applicant was intoxicated at the time of the accident. The blood alcohol test results were inconclusive and should be weighed with all the other evidence, the panel said. The applicant’s DUI acquittal made the panel less likely to believe the intoxication defense.
The evidence failed to show how much time elapsed between the accident and the taking of the applicant’s blood, whether a .04 blood alcohol level would have made him intoxicated, and whether he showed any outward signs of intoxication before the accident, the panel said.
The judge had no opportunity to observe the responding officer’s demeanor and to determine whether the officer was credible, disinterested, or able to accurately record the situation since the officer did not testify at trial, the panel added.
Second, the panel held that the employer failed to provide medical testimony or other evidence showing that intoxication was the accident’s proximate or substantial cause despite having ample opportunity to do so.
Instead, the evidence established that the accident happened due to the applicant’s adjustment of his mirror immediately beforehand, which directed sunlight toward his eyes and blurred his vision, the panel said.
The rest of the evidence – including the alcohol’s smell on his breath, his red eyes, and his thick and slurred speech – also did not prove that intoxication was the cause, the panel added.