The head of the House Judiciary Committee wants to alter the state constitution to deny benefits to injured workers who were under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs.
Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said Wednesday the workers’ compensation system never was set up to aid those whose intoxication was a factor in causing an on-thejob accident. He said that premise was upset last week when the state Supreme Court ruled that employees can’t be denied benefits solely because they were inebriated or high at the time.
Tom Stillwell, an attorney who represents injured workers, said Farnsworth’s idea has unintended consequences.
For example, he said, someone might be walking on a job site "and someone drops a piano on his head.’’
Stillwell said the proposal would mean no benefits — lost wages and medical care — if a hearing officer decides that even 1 percent of the mishap might be due to something the worker ingested over the prior weekend.
Farnsworth acknowledged that could happen. But he said if drug or alcohol use contributed in any way to the mishap, compensation should be denied.
The issue is critical to the business community, which is legally required to provide benefits to injured workers. Some companies buy insurance; others self-insure, paying any benefits themselves.
Until 1925, injured workers had to sue employers for onthe-job mishaps.
A constitutional amendment set up what essentially is a no-fault system. Workers are guaranteed certain payments without having to prove the employer or equipment caused the accident; employers in turn are immunized from lawsuits, even if their equipment is dangerous and resulted in the injury.
Farnsworth’s proposal would deny benefits if an injury resulted in whole or in part from intoxication or drug use, legal or otherwise.