Workers' comp with a wrinkle

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By Merilee Dannemann

The Workers’ Compensation Administration is suggesting yet another attempt to change the statutory language relating to workers who get injured while using drugs or alcohol.  Meanwhile, the workers’ compensation community is more and more concerned about workers who get addicted to drugs as a result of their injuries.
The question of whether benefits should be barred for workers who were intoxicated has been a political hot potato for decades. The public is outraged when a worker who got hurt while drunk or stoned gets workers’ compensation benefits. Prior to the 1990 reform, the law said that if drugs or alcohol were the sole cause of the accident, the claim could be thrown out, but there was no consequence if intoxication was a partial factor.  
The 1990 Workers’ Compensation Task Force, which overhauled the statute, battled over the issue but could not reach agreement. Labor leaders argued that a worker’s family should not suffer because the worker made a mistake. The task force left the old provision in place and created a follow-up task force, which struggled valiantly and arrived at a recommendation that nobody else liked, so it was never even introduced in legislation.

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