June 4, 2010 in Region

Man mauled after smoking pot can get workers comp

Associated Press
 

HELENA — A worker who was mauled feeding the bears at a tourist attraction near Glacier National Park is eligible for workers’ compensation even though he smoked marijuana that morning, a judge has ruled.

Brock Hopkins’ use of marijuana before he arrived at work was not the main cause of the bear attack on Nov. 2, 2007, Judge James Jeremiah Shea of the state Workers’ Compensation Court concluded in his ruling last month.

The attack happened at Great Bear Adventures, a private park near West Glacier where tourists can watch black bears and grizzly bears while driving through the park.

Russell Kilpatrick, the owner of the park, had contended Hopkins’ use of marijuana caused the attack.

“I cannot conclude based on the evidence before me that the major contributing cause of the grizzly bear attack was anything other than the grizzly,” the judge wrote. “It is not as if this attack occurred when Hopkins inexplicably wandered into the grizzly pen while searching for the nearest White Castle. Hopkins was attacked while performing a job Kilpatrick had paid him to do — feeding grizzly bears.”

At the time of year of the attack, the bears were going into hibernation and the bears’ food was being tapered in preparation, according to the court’s account.

Hopkins acknowledged smoking marijuana before arriving at work that day, the judge said. Hopkins worked on the park’s gate for about two hours, then prepared food for the bears.

After he stepped inside the bears’ pen with a bucket of food, one of the grizzly bears attacked him. Hopkins fled, managing to escape by crawling under an electrified fence.

He suffered severe injuries to his leg and had to be hospitalized, according to the court.

Kilpatrick and the co-defendant in the case, the Uninsured Employers’ Fund, contended that Hopkins should not be eligible for workers’ compensation for those injuries because he was a volunteer acting outside of his duties and was not a paid employee.

Kilpatrick acknowledged giving money to Hopkins but it was given randomly and “out of my heart,” the owner told the court.

Shea ruled that Hopkins was a regularly paid employee and Kilpatrick’s claims were not credible.

“There is a term of art used to describe the regular exchange of money for favors — it is called ’employment,”’ the judge wrote.

A message left Friday at a number listed for Kilpatrick was not immediately returned.

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