Montana Supreme Court Upholds Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Man Mauled by Bears after Smoking Pot
The Montana Supreme Court has upheld a ruling issued by the Workers’ Compensation Court regarding medical bills associated with an incident where a man was mauled while feeding bears at Great Bear Adventures, a tourist attraction near Glacier National Park. Last June, the Workers’ Compensation Court declared that the man’s $65,000 in medical expenses should be covered under workers’ compensation benefits even though he had smoked marijuana prior to the incident.
The initial workers’ compensation claim was filed with the Uninsured Employers’ Fund (UEF) in 2007. As a result of the bear attack, the man had suffered injuries to his legs and buttocks. The UEF chose to deny the claim, citing the man’s marijuana usage on the day of the bear mauling as its reason. Additionally, the UEF claimed that the man was acting beyond the scope of his duties.
The UEF was responsible for overseeing this claim since the owner of Great Bear Adventures did not have workers’ compensation insurance. The park owner claimed that Brock Hopkins, the man injured by the bears, was a volunteer and not a true employee. Furthermore, he claimed that Hopkins had gone against orders by feeding the bears that day, since the bears were being weaned off of food in preparation for hibernation.
Last June, the Workers’ Compensation Court ruled that Hopkins was in fact an employee of Great Bear Adventures. It also argued that while his “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…grizzly bears are equal opportunity maulers” and do not discriminate based on marijuana consumption.
The Montana Supreme Court agreed with this decision. As a result, the UEF has paid approximately $35,000 in discounted medical bills associated with the bear mauling. The park owner was also required to pay a penalty for not carrying the appropriate workers’ compensation insurance.