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Drunken Tumble Doesn’t Merit Workers’ Compensation

(CN) - A construction worker who was accused of drinking and napping on the job cannot collect workers' compensation for falling down an elevator shaft, the Utah Court of Appeals ruled.

Shane O. Wood was working as a painter for Karr Painting & Decoration on May 1, 2007. He was painting the inside of a Salt Lake City three-story home that had an empty elevator shaft from the third floor down to the first.

A co-worker's testified that Wood worked in the morning, had lunch, drank whiskey and vodka, took a two-hour nap in a first-floor closet, went to the second floor and then fell down the elevator shaft.

Wood said he was not drinking and fell down the shaft while masking the trim around the shaft opening.

The administrative law judge approved Wood's request for workers' compensation benefits because the accident took place on the job site during the work day.

Karr appealed, and the Labor Commission Appeals Board reversed the decision, ruling that Wood had stopped working when the accident took place.

The board believed the version of events Wood's co-worker had told over that of Wood. Karr's owner had also testified that he personally prepared the area around the shaft, and that there was no work to be done there when Wood fell.

Wood took the case to the Utah Court of Appeals and argued that he was on the job when he was climbing the steps to the second floor after his nap.

The court disagreed and upheld the board's decision on Jan. 26.

"Although both the board and this court are obligated to construe the (Workers' Compensation) Act liberally and resolve any doubt in favor of coverage, it would be pure speculation to assume that Wood was returning to his work duties at the time he was injured, as opposed to merely continuing his non-work related activities," Judge William Thorne Jr. wrote for the court.

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