ERC Contractor Yard & Sales v. Robertson
In ERC Contractor Yard & Sales v. Robertson, 335 Ark. 63, 977 S.W.2d 212 (1998), the commission and the appellate court agreed that the claimant's "fall was caused by an alcohol-withdrawal condition which was personal in nature, or idiopathic."
The ALJ found that the fall was from scaffolding and that the injury was compensable because his employment conditions increased the effects of the fall. The appellate court affirmed that finding also. After he fell, the claimant's blood-alcohol test showed 0.01% alcohol.
The employer denied the claim based on the intoxication defense. The claimant admitted he had a history of alcohol abuse, but denied he had been drinking the day of the accident. His doctors concluded he fell as a result of an alcohol withdrawal seizure.
The ALJ found the injury was compensable because the fall was caused by an idiopathic condition and the worksite conditions contributed to the injury. The ALJ found that the presence of alcohol was insufficient to show that the accident was "substantially occasioned by alcohol."
In Arkansas, the presence of alcohol in a blood test raises a presumption that the accident was substantially occasioned by alcohol; the employee then must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the accident was not substantially occasioned by alcohol.
The Arkansas Supreme Court agreed with the employer that the blood alcohol test showed a slight amount of alcohol which triggered the presumption. Id. at 215.
However, the court found substantial evidence supported the finding that the claimant had rebutted the presumption by a preponderance of the evidence-specifically, the court noted the claimant's testimony that he had not been drinking the day of the evidence, which was corroborated by his girlfriend and his supervisor, the low blood alcohol test result, and the doctors' conclusion that the seizure was caused by alcohol withdrawal. Id.
The court then addressed the employer's argument that the fall was substantially occasioned by the use of alcohol because without the claimant's long-term use of alcohol, he would not have had an alcohol withdrawal seizure which caused his fall at work.
The Arkansas Supreme Court held that the statutory language "substantially caused by the use of alcohol" meant that the accident must be caused by the use of alcohol, not by abstinence from the use of alcohol. Id. at 216.
The court held that the statutory language required a direct causal link between the use of alcohol and the injury in order for the intoxication defense to bar compensation. Id.
The court then explained that an alcohol withdrawal seizure is an idiopathic condition because it is personal or peculiar to the individual. Id., citing 1 Larson, Workers' Compensation Law, 12.11 (1998). The court noted that an idiopathic fall is not compensable unless conditions related to employment contribute to the risk by placing the employee in a position which increases the effects of the idiopathic fall. Id.
The court found substantial evidence supported the commission's decision that the idiopathic fall was more dangerous because the employee was on scaffolding while working and that the injury was therefore compensable. Id.