Colorado Workers’ Compensation Penalizes Widow in Ski Equipment Death Over THC

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In many ways, Colorado has been leading the country and the world into a new age of cannabis legalization. Unfortunately, the number of institutional issues the state has experienced only highlights how deeply entrenched prohibition mentality really is among the general population, as well as the people in positions in power.


The state has still seen arrests for cannabis, as well as issues with social services and employers wanting to discriminate against workers who utilize the state’s medical or recreational cannabis programs. No single previous case is as overt and as disturbing as the recent decision by Colorado’s workers’ compensation.


December 28th, 2017, a husband and father of three died on the job in Georgetown, Colorado. Adam Lee was 40 years old when he died in a tragic accident at Loveland Ski Area. His death was a result of traumatic chest injuries suffered via the Magic Carpet. The Magic Carpet is a machine with a beltway intended to help kids learn to ski. Lee was underneath the machine, trying to repair it. Someone else turned it on. In fact, the machine was turned on and off seven times, and Lee was dragged suffering fatal injuries.


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has since released a report indicating that the death was the result of serious workplace safety violations. The worker who turned on the machine failed to check the area underneath for maintenance workers. There was also inadequate signage near the machinery or train workers about the dangers it posed.


There are many other violations noted, but the clear message of the OSHA report is that employer negligence almost certainly contributed to, if not directly caused, this death. In that circumstance, the surviving family members of the deceased should receive workers’ compensation benefits. In fact, they could even have ground for a lawsuit against the company.


However, Lee’s widow, Erika Lee, who must now raise four children alone, is only receiving part of the workers’ compensation benefit the family deserves. Apparently, Colorado law allows for worker’s compensation benefits to be reduced by half in cases where people test positive for drugs, including cannabis.

Although cannabis is fully legal for adult use in Colorado, and although Lee could have tested positive due to use many days or even weeks prior, his wife and children will receive only half of the typical amount of survival benefits through the state workers’ compensation program.


Testing showed he had high levels of THC in his system at the time of his death. There is no reason to assume that Lee was under the influence at work. He could very well have been enjoying cannabis in his own home, in compliance with state law, over the holidays before he died.


His wife is appealing the decision to reduce her benefits. Hopefully, she will win her appeal. There’s also the hope that this tragic case will help inspire Colorado lawmakers to adjust a truly broken and inappropriate law currently on the books.



For previous Ladybud articles about discrimination, click here.