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Giles v. Eagle Farms, Inc.

Supreme Court of Idaho

November 28, 2014

NEWMAN K. GILES, Claimant-Appellant,
v.
EAGLE FARMS, INC., Employer; and IDAHO STATE INSURANCE FUND, Surety, Defendants-Respondents

2014 Opinion No. 122.

Appeal from the Idaho Industrial Commission.

The decision of the Industrial Commission is affirmed.

Smith, Driscoll & Associates, PLLC, Idaho Falls, for Appellant. Bryan D. Smith argued.

Augustine Law Offices, PLLC, Boise, for Respondents. Paul J. Augustine argued.

J. JONES, Justice. Chief Justice BURDICK, Justices EISMANN and HORTON and Justice Pro Tem WALTERS CONCUR.

OPINION

Page 536

J. JONES, Justice

Newman K. Giles (Kal) sought income benefits from his employer for injuries he suffered during the course of his employment. Kal was involved in a one-vehicle accident, sustaining severe injuries. Finding Kal's intoxication to have been a reasonable and substantial cause of his accident and resulting injuries, the Idaho Industrial Commission held Kal was barred from receiving income benefits. Kal appealed.

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The claimant, Kal Giles, was involved in a one-vehicle accident during the course of his employment.[1] While returning from repairing a sprinkler pivot at approximately 3:30 a.m., Kal was ejected from his vehicle and suffered severe injuries. The evidence is undisputed that Kal was driving at approximately 123 mph in a 50 mph zone at the time of the accident, that he was legally intoxicated with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .11%, that he was very familiar with the road and the particular curve where the accident happened, and that he was not wearing a seatbelt. Kal also claims to have been texting in the time leading up to the accident, though evidence of the alleged texting was not raised until opening argument at the evidentiary hearing nearly four years after the accident. The Idaho Industrial Commission conducted the hearing on the sole issue of whether Kal was barred from receiving income benefits by Idaho Code section 72-208, which denies benefits " [i]f intoxication is a reasonable and substantial cause of an injury." I.C. § 72-208(2).

Page 537

[157 Idaho 652] At the evidentiary hearing, Kal sought to establish that the accident primarily resulted from his speed, stressing his propensity for driving at excessive speeds. He testified that he drives a " souped-up" truck and essentially has a " need for speed." There was generally a consensus among the witnesses that the 123 mph Kal was driving was a substantial factor in causing his accident and resulting injuries.

Acknowledging that the effects vary from person to person based on a variety of factors, the crash-investigating officer and two expert witnesses each testified as to the general impairing effects of alcohol, including impairment of judgment, motor skills, inhibitions, alertness, reaction time, depth perception, and multi-tasking. There was also more specific testimony with respect to intoxication. Trooper Bivens, the investigating officer, testified that alcohol at the concentration Kal had in his blood at the time of the accident noticeably impairs an individual's judgment and motor skills and that alcohol was a contributing factor to Kal's accident.

The surety, the State Insurance Fund (SIF), retained Dr. Dawson, a pharmacology Ph.D. to try, as he put it, " to determine if, and to what degree, alcohol may have played a role in Kal's crash." His testimony was given upon his understanding that there could be more than one " substantial cause" of the accident. Dawson ultimately opined to a reasonable degree of probability in his field and based upon his education and research on the effects of alcohol and drugs on cognitive and psychomotor functioning, as well as the documentation contained in this case, that " intoxication was a reasonable and substantial cause of the crash and subsequent injury."

Kal retained Dr. Anderson, an emergency room physician, to determine whether alcohol was a substantial cause, which Dr. Anderson understood to mean " the number one cause, . . . the main cause, . . . [the] reproducible cause." In analyzing the cause of Kal's accident, Dr. Anderson took what he called a " reproducible evidence based" approach. This means he looked at each possible causal factor individually and tried to determine which of them would always result in an accident. Using this method, he determined there were certain people who would sometimes be able to negotiate the stretch of road relevant in this case even with a BAC of .11; he determined there were certain people who would sometimes be able to negotiate that road while texting; he then concluded that, because no person could ever negotiate that stretch of road while driving 123 mph, Kal's speed was the only " reproducible cause" and was therefore the only " reasonable and substantial" cause.

Dr. Dawson's opinions regarding the reasonable and substantial causes of Kal's accident and injuries were more persuasive to the referee than Dr. Anderson's. The referee found intoxication was a reasonable and substantial cause of the accident and injuries and concluded that Kal was barred from receiving income benefits under Idaho Code section 72-208. The Commission adopted the referee's findings as its own. Kal appealed and we affirm.

II.

ISSUES CONSIDERED ON APPEAL

1. Whether there is substantial and competent evidence to support the Commission's finding that intoxication was a reasonable and substantial cause of Kal's injuries.

2. Whether the Commission reversibly erred in considering Kal's use of prescription medication to find that intoxication was a reasonable and substantial cause of Kal's injuries.

3. Whether the Commission reversibly erred in failing to consider evidence of Kal's alleged texting in the time leading up to his accident.

4. Whether the Commission reversibly erred in refusing to find that Kal's failure to wear a seatbelt was a reasonable and substantial cause of his injuries.

5. Whether either party is entitled to attorney ...


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