In these fractured political times, there are seemingly few issues that Republicans and Democrats can agree on. However, if a recent Albuquerque Journal poll is to be believed, strong majorities of New Mexico voters from both parties agree that workers’ compensation benefits should be cut or eliminated entirely for workers whose injuries involved the use of drugs or alcohol.
Current Law Allows for Benefits if Alcohol or Drugs Only a “Contributing Factor”
Under New Mexico’s current workers’ compensation law, an injured worker can receive workers’ compensation indemnity benefits, reduced by 10%, if he or she was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the accident, but the alcohol or drugs were only a “contributing factor” and not the cause of the accident. If the worker was intoxicated or legally “under the influence,” and that condition caused the accident, the worker will lose all compensation, including medical benefits.
Efforts to Change the Law Repeatedly Failed
In 2011, 2013, and 2014 bills were introduced in the New Mexico Legislature to change the law such that if alcohol or drugs were “a contributing cause, to any degree” of a work-related injury or death, the worker or beneficiaries would receive no workers’ compensation benefits at all. None of those bills ever became law, largely out of concerns that it would unfairly punish the worker’s family for the worker’s actions.
New Mexico Voters Support Curtailing or Denying Benefits
If New Mexico likely voters had a say, however, a large majority of them would support just such a law, according to the September Albuquerque Journal poll. When asked “Would you support or oppose a law that denies or significantly limits payments to employees whose alcohol or drug use contributed to their injury or death?” 67% voiced their support, including 63% of Democratic voters and 72% of Republican voters.
Workers’ compensation attorneys have fought against the imposition of a reduction in disability benefits for years. The reason most workers’ attorneys are against any penalty for drugs or alcohol is because of the fact that the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation system is a no – fault system. This means that even if the worker is at fault for the accident, he or she is still entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. A penalty for being under the influence of drugs or alcohol introduces the concept of fault which is against the whole philosophy of the Workers’ Compensation Act. Additionally, since a worker only gets 2/3 of his average wage even while on full disability, a decrease by 15% of that amount means that an injured Worker is trying to survive on a little more than 56% of their average weekly wage.
Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol are hot topics that will always have the public and our Legislature “up in arms” when it comes to the idea of paying full benefits to a worker who was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of their work accident. I am on the Drug and Alcohol Advisory Council. The latest proposal is to increase the penalty from 10% to 15%, but only allow employers to use the alcohol defense if they have an alcohol education program in place. This is the most reasonable proposal that will be sent up to the legislature in years. Previous, more draconian proposals called for complete forfeiture of benefits or cutting them by 50%. I doubt we will be able to continue to block this type of legislation forever and if changing the statute is inevitable, at least the current proposal is “reasonable”.
The Law Offices of Jeffrey C. Brown: Fighting for New Mexico Workers
We know how hard you work, and we’ll work just as hard for you. Call the Law Offices of Jeffrey C. Brown & Derek Thompson today at (505) 275-6600 or fill out our online form to arrange for your free initial consultation to discuss your workers’ compensation matter. We look forward to helping you get back on your feet, and back to work.
This website has been prepared by the Law Offices of Jeffrey C. Brown for informational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. The information is not provided in the course of an attorney-client relationship and is not intended to substitute for legal advice from an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.