Giles v. Eagle Farms Inc. – Drinking and Driving and Workers’ Compensation

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports motor vehicle accidents are consistently the No. 1 cause of work-related fatalities in the U.S. A full 36 percent of the work-related deaths counted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are associated with crashes.
An estimated 1,275 workers die annually from crashes on public roads. Another 310 are killed in wrecks that occur on industrial premises or off the highway, and nearly 340 pedestrian workers are killed when struck by vehicles.

We’re not just talking about professional drivers at risk here, either. Many people spend an increasing amount of their work day in or near motor vehicles.

Our experienced Spartanburg accident lawyers know that when crashes occur on the job or when commuting for work, there are special considerations that must be made regarding compensation. That’s because workers’ compensation benefits are an exclusive remedy, meaning if your employer has insurance, you are bound to accept that and not file a personal injury lawsuit against your boss. However, this may not preclude you from seeking third-party damages if you didn’t cause the crash. You might also be entitled to underinsured or uninsured motorist benefits from your own insurance company, but keep in mind that whatever you collect from workers’ compensation will likely be deducted from the amount of that to which you are entitled.

Because we are experienced both in personal injury law and workers’ compensation, we are uniquely situated to handle claims arising from these kinds of instances.

One element that may greatly hurt your chances for damages is the element of intoxication. If you are driving for work but also impaired, you may find your claim for benefits or other compensation is going to be tough to secure.

Both South Carolina and North Carolina have provisions in workers’ compensation law precluding benefits for workers whose injuries or death is caused by intoxication. It’s worth noting that per South Carolina Code Section 42-9-60, an employer or insurer who makes such a claim bears the burden of proof to show not only was the worker impaired, but that the impairment was a substantial cause of the injury or death.

In the recent case of Giles v. Eagle Farms, Inc., a worker appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court after being denied benefits on grounds his intoxication was a substantial cause of the work-related crash that injured him. He argued it was not the alcohol, but rather the speed around a sharp curve and the fact he was texting at the time that caused the wreck.

Of course, any one of these actions undoubtedly increases the risk of a crash, but the question was which one was considered a substantial cause of the crash – or could there be multiple substantial causes?

According to court records, claimant was returning home from repairing a sprinkler pivot around 3 a.m. for work when he was involved in a one-vehicle crash. He was ejected from the vehicle and sustained serious injuries. At the time, he was traveling 123 mph in a 50-mph zone. His blood-alcohol level was 0.11 percent, meaning he was legally intoxicated. He also wasn’t wearing a seat belt and was rounding a sharp curve at the time.

His claim for workers’ compensation benefits was denied because Idaho workers’ compensation law – just as in both North and South Carolina – bar benefits to claimants whose intoxication is a reasonable and substantial cause of injury.

Plaintiff appealed, arguing other factors were the primary cause of the crash. An expert witness for plaintiff argued speed was the major factor because it was the only “reproducible cause” of the crash. That is, with varying success, a person who is drunk or texting might be able to safely negotiate the curve, but no one who is traveling that fast could do so.

An expert witness for the company, meanwhile, argued multiple factors could reasonably be considered causal.

The state high court found the latter expert’s testimony to be more credible.

If you are involved in a work-related auto accident, contact our experienced injury lawyers today.

Contact the South Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Giles v. Eagle Farms, Inc., Nov. 28, 2014, Idaho Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Motorcycle Safety Tips for Fringe Weather Riding, Dec. 1, 2014, Spartanburg Accident Lawyer Blog

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