The Supreme Court of Montana recently ruled that a park worker who was mauled by a bear is entitled to workers’ comp. What makes this case strange? The man admits to smoking marijuana the day of the attack.
There are so many twists to this story we don’t where to begin. So, we’ll start at the beginning.
In 2002, a man, “Peters” began working at Great Bear Adventures, a park in Montana where visitors can observe bears while being protected by electric fences. Peters performed various tasks including maintenance and feeding the bears.
According to the court document, while the owner did not condone marijuana use, the workers had smoked pot in the park several times, and on occasion, the owner, “Maddock,” joined in.
In November 2007, Maddock called Peters in to work. Peters smoked pot on his way in, a fact he admitted in court. That same day, he went about his normal tasks, including entering the fenced area and feeding the bears. Testimony differed as to what job tasks Peters was assigned. His boss claimed he explicitly told Peters not to feed the bears that day; however, the worker denies hearing such instructions.
While feeding the bears, Peters was mauled. Luckily, another bear distracted the attacking animal, and Peters managed to escape. Maddock found him and he was airlifted to the hospital.
Maddock didn’t carry workers’ compensation insurance, so Peters took his case to the Workers’ Compensation Court (WCC), asking for workers’ compensation benefits from the Uninsured Employers’ Fund (UEF). The UFE and Maddock both opposed Peter's request.
Maddock claimed that Peters was not an employee and that he only gave him money “out of his heart.” Maddock also argued that he directed Peters not to feed the bears that day, and claimed that the marijuana use contributed to the mauling.
However, the WCC ruled in the worker’s favor, noting that while smoking marijuana “was ill-advised to say the least and mind-bogglingly stupid to say the most,” bears are “equal opportunity maulers” — pot, or no pot. Maddock appealed to the Montana Supreme Court.
The Montana Supreme Court upheld the WCC’s ruling.