Positive drug test doesn't block benefits for 'freak accident'
Case name: Russell v. H Metal Contractors, Inc., et al., No. 11-27 (La. Ct. App. 06/01/11).
Ruling: The Louisiana Court of Appeal held that a helper for a contractor was entitled to temporary total disability benefits for his back injury.
What it means: In Louisiana, a worker who is intoxicated at the time of his accident can recover benefits if the accident was a "freak accident," the worker did not appear intoxicated at the time, and he could not have prevented the accident.
Summary: A helper for a contracting company was installing insulation when a gust of wind caught a piece of insulation and blew it into a nearby power line. The helper was shocked, fell from the building, and was knocked unconscious. He was taken to a hospital where he was diagnosed with compression fractures to two vertebrae. A drug screen performed at the hospital returned positive results for marijuana and opiates. The company's insurer provided indemnity and medical benefits to the helper. The insurer terminated benefits after a year due to the helper's "doctor shopping," "untruthfulness," "mental instability," and positive drug screen. The Louisiana Court of Appeal held that the helper was entitled to temporary total disability benefits.
The court found that there was evidence showing that the helper was disabled since the accident. The parties agreed that he suffered a work-related injury. Two doctors opined that the helper needed physical therapy before he could return to work. The helper's last treating doctor placed him on a "no work" status.
The company contended that the helper's intoxication at the time of the accident prevented him from recovering benefits. The court found that the helper showed that his intoxication was not a contributing cause of the accident. The helper's supervisor described the accident as a "freak accident" that happened in a "split second." He said the helper did not appear intoxicated, and there was nothing the helper could have done to prevent the accident.
The court also found that the helper was entitled to penalties and attorney's fees.
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July 21, 2011
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