Pot-smoking man mauled by bear, gets comp

By Pat Murphy

The Daily Record Newswire

This kind of stuff never happened on The Yogi Bear Show.

With Yogi, it was all clean fun. Yogi, with his little green hat and tie, outwitting Ranger Smith with zany plots to nab campers' pic-a-nic baskets.

No blood and certainly no recreational drug use.

Unfortunately, blood and drugs figured prominently in Brock Hopkins' close-up-and-personal encounter with a grizzly bear named Red at the Great Bear Adventures.

Great Bear Adventures is located near West Glacier, Montana. The park is owned by Russell Kilpatrick and is one of those places that purports to offer visitors a chance to see wildlife -- in this case grizzly bears -- in their natural habitat.

Of course, it takes a little imagination what with the visitors driving through in air-conditioned SUVs and the bears surrounded by multiple layers of electrified fence, but you get the drift.

Anyhow, Kilpatrick and Hopkins were friends, and as a friend Hopkins lent a hand around the park. Whether there was a regular employment relationship between Kilpatrick and Hopkins is kind of sketchy.

Kilpatrick insisted that any money he gave Hopkins was out of the goodness of his heart -- apparently Hopkins was down on his luck -- and Hopkins presumably helped Kilpatrick because he was a good pal.

At least that's Kilpatrick's take on their relationship.

On November 2, 2007, Kilpatrick asked Hopkins to come over to the park. On the way, Hopkins smoked marijuana. Yes, smoking pot is allegedly one of Hopkins' favorite forms of recreation.

At the park that morning, Kilpatrick had Hopkins do some work on the front gate. When Hopkins finished with the gate, he found Kilpatrick taking a nap.

Demonstrating rare initiative for one who indulges in marijuana, Hopkins decided on his own to feed the bears.

Now, Kilpatrick swears that he told Hopkins not to feed the bears, explaining later that he was tapering their food as they prepared for hibernation.

Hopkins swears that Kilpatrick never told him not to feed the bears.

In any event, it turned out to be a bad idea when Hopkins mixed the bears' food and proceeded to enter their pen.

As Hopkins began to place food out, Red, the largest bear, attacked. Who knows what triggered the attack. Perhaps Red has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to illegal drug use. But attack Red did.

Red knocked Hopkins to the ground and unceremoniously sat on him. With the dinner table set, Red started to leisurely munch on Hopkins' leg and choice hind quarters.

Hopkins was in dire straits, but to his rescue came another bear, Brodie.

Brodie apparently has a more tolerant view of the drug culture and wasn't about to hold it against Hopkins that he occasionally smoked weed.

Instead, Brodie set upon Red, biting the big bear from behind. Red moved off Hopkins momentarily and the man saw his chance. Before you could say, "roll me a joint," Hopkins was under the electrified fence and out of the pen.

But Hopkins was seriously hurt. When Kilpatrick found him later, Hopkins needed to be taken to the hospital by helicopter.

Then came Hopkins' workers' compensation claim.

Kilpatrick was uninsured and he disputed that Hopkins was an "employee" eligible for benefits under Montana's uninsured employers' fund.

But a state administrative judge found to the contrary and last week the Montana Supreme Court affirmed a $65,000 award in favor of Hopkins.

The court quickly dispensed with Kilpatrick's challenge to Hopkins' employment status.

"Kilpatrick's assertion that Hopkins was a volunteer is without support. As the [workers' compensation judge] succinctly stated, '[t]here is a term of art used to describe the regular exchange of money for favors -- it is called "employment,"'" the court said.

As to Kilpatrick's contention that Hopkins shouldn't have been feeding the bears in the first place, the court deferred to the workers' compensation judge's factual finding that Hopkins hadn't received express instructions not to feed the bears.

The court then agreed with the judge who had found that Hopkins was acting in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the bear attack.

The administrative judge had struck a humorous chord, stating that "Kilpatrick benefitted from the care and feeding of the bears that Hopkins provided since presumably customers are unwilling to pay cash to see dead and emaciated bears."

Again, the state supreme court deferred to the workers' compensation judge's colorful conclusions in deciding that Hopkins' marijuana use before the bear attack did not operate as a bar to an award of benefits.

The court said that the workers' compensation judge "aptly noted, 'Hopkins' 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.' However, the [judge] further noted that grizzlies are 'equal opportunity maulers,' without regard to marijuana consumption." (Hopkins v. Uninsured Employers' Fund)

Published: Mon, Apr 4, 2011