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Published: Thursday, 3/24/2011

Mont. Supreme Court: Man mauled while feeding bears after smoking pot eligible for work comp

KALISPELL, Mont. — The Montana Supreme Court has upheld a Workers' Compensation Court ruling that about $65,000 in medical bills incurred by a man who was mauled while feeding the bears at a tourist attraction should be covered by workers' compensation, despite the fact the man had smoked marijuana on the day of the attack.

The court filed its opinion Tuesday, the Daily Inter Lake reported.

Brock Hopkins filed a claim with the Uninsured Employers' Fund in December, 2007, saying he suffered injuries to his legs and buttocks when he was mauled by a bear at Great Bear Adventures near Glacier National Park on Nov. 2, 2007. Mr. Hopkins was treated for his injuries at a Kalispell hospital.

The UEF denied Mr. Hopkins' claim because Mr. Hopkins had smoked marijuana before entering a bear enclosure. The fund also argued that Mr. Hopkins was acting outside the scope of his duties.

Park owner Russell Kilpatrick, who did not have workers' compensation coverage, argued that Mr. Hopkins was a volunteer who Mr. Kilpatrick occasionally gave cash to "out of his heart." Mr. Hopkins fed the bears that day after Mr. Kilpatrick told him not to because he was tapering their food as they prepared for hibernation, Mr. Kilpatrick said.
The Workers' Compensation Court ruled last June that Mr. Hopkins was an employee and noted 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," there was no evidence presented regarding Mr. Hopkins' level of impairment.

The WCC found that grizzlies are "equal opportunity maulers" without regard to marijuana consumption.

UEF attorney Joseph Nevin told the Associated Press Thursday that the case is finished and the agency would end up paying an estimated $35,000 in discounted medical bills on behalf of Mr. Hopkins. Mr. Kilpatrick paid a small penalty for failing to carry workers' compensation insurance, Mr. Nevin said.

A phone listing for Mr. Kilpatrick in Coram has been disconnected and there is no phone listing for Great Bear Adventures.

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