Should benefits in Colorado be reduced for injuries resulting from a safety rule violation?
Reduction for violation of safety rules in general
The Colorado Workers’ Compensation Act provides that compensation to claimants shall be reduced by 50% if the injury is the result of the claimant’s willful failure to obey a reasonable safety rule of the employer. Respondents are allowed to assert a safety rule violation when admitting for a compensable injury if they have a good faith basis for asserting the violation. If claimant challenges the assertion, it is Respondent’s burden to prove the claimant willfully violated the safety rule.
Proving a violation of safety rules
A safety rule violation can be considered “willful” if the claimant knows of the rule and deliberately performs the forbidden conduct. There is no requirement, however, that the respondent prove the claimant had the rule in mind and decided to break it. Willful conduct may be proven by circumstantial evidence including evidence of frequent warnings, the obviousness of the risk, and the extent of deliberation evidenced by claimant’s conduct.
A written safety rule is not required. Oral warnings and instructions have been held as sufficient in some cases. However, written safety rule violations are generally easier to prove because there is more proof that the claimant knew the rule. Also, when the rule is written, there may be training, manuals, or acknowledgements signed by the claimant showing they were aware of the rule. With an oral rule, this type of documentation is usually not present.
Likewise, a claimant may also be held responsible for violating a common sense safety rule. If a claimant acted completely careless or indifferent in their actions, there may be an argument that they violated a common sense safety rule. For example, a common sense safety rule could include keeping your hands out of a saw.
The employer also needs to consistently enforce the safety rule. If the safety rule is not enforced and the employer ignores constant violations, then the court could find the employer permitted the conduct.
If an injury is the result of a safety rule violation, through documentation and discovery needs to be completed. All documents proving training and receipt of the rules by the claimant need to be obtained from the employer. Statements also need to be obtained from the claimant and the management about the safety rule, the training, and the enforcement.
For further questions on this topic, please contact one of our attorneys at 720-488-9586.