In the world of workers’ compensation cases, sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. The latest evidence of this comes from Montana and a recent decision by the Montana Supreme Court.

In its decision, released on March 22, 2011, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a ruling by the Workers’ Compensation Court (WCC) which found that a man who was mauled while feeding the bears for his employer may collect workers’ compensation even though he smoked pot beforehand.

The case, Hopkins v. Uninsured Employers’ Fund, 359 Mont. 381, -- P.3d --, 2011 MT 49, arose out of an injury sustained by Brock Hopkins, found by the court to be an employee of Great Bear Adventures at the time of his injury. The court also determined that his pot use was not a major contributing cause of his injuries since no evidence of the level of impairment was introduced. The decision affirmed the ruling by the WCC (which is a must read for the humor alone), which approved the claim even though Brock’s “use of marijuana to kick off a day of working around grizzly bears was ill-advised to say the least and mind-bogglingly stupid to say the most", stating that grizzlies are “equal opportunity maulers” without regard to marijuana consumption.

While all states provide for some type of relief for employers by denying or restricting workers’ compensation benefits to employees whose injuries arise from the use or influence of controlled or intoxicating substances (in Ohio, see O.R.C. 4123.54), this is a cautionary tale to employers that even in the face of known hazards (such as grizzly bears), some employees will disregard common sense and work under the influence. Be sure to protect your company by clearly explaining to your employees exactly what the law in your jurisdiction entails, and have a clearly stated drug-free workplace policy in your company handbook. While such guidance wouldn’t have served Great Bear Adventures well (testimony was presented in Hopkins that the employer actually smoked marijuana with the claimant from time to time - never, ever a smart move), hopefully the intelligent readers of this blog will heed the advice.