Medical expert's testimony bolsters employer's intoxication defense
Case name: Adkins v. Texas Mutual Insurance Co., No. 04-07-00750-CV (Tex. Ct. App. 10/08/08).
What it means:
In Texas, if a blood test or urinalysis reveals the presence of a controlled substance in an employee's body, there is a rebuttable presumption that he did not have the normal use of his mental and physical faculties when his injury occurred. The employer's medical expert may base his conclusion that the employee was intoxicated at the time of the accident on test results and medical literature -- he is not required to review witness statements nor interview witnesses before rendering his opinion.
Summary: A restaurant general manager slipped and fell on ice as he was retrieving food from a walk-in freezer. He admitted that a few days before the accident he smoked marijuana while watching a basketball game but denied being under the influence when the accident took place. The employer's medical expert reviewed the drug test results and concluded that it was "implausible" that the marijuana the claimant used several days before the accident could account for the high level indicated in his urine. The Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the medical expert's testimony regarding the high level of marijuana metabolites in the claimant's system on the day of the accident. The claimant's intoxication therefore barred him from receiving workers' compensation benefits.
The employee argued that the medical expert's testimony was unreliable because the expert did not review statements from nor speak with witnesses regarding what transpired on the day of the accident. He also claimed that he was harmed by the expert's testimony because its prejudicial effect outweighed its probative value.
The court found that the expert's failure to interview witnesses or review witness statements did not render his opinion unreliable. The expert explained that he was focusing on the drug test results because they were "much more objective than personal observation."
The court also found that although the expert's testimony was "certainly prejudicial" to the claimant, it was not unfairly prejudicial because the test results related directly to the employer's defense.
December 1, 2008
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