Positive drug screen for marijuana fails to wipe out operator's benefits
Case name: Beck v. Newt Brown Contractors, LLC, No. 46,523-WCA (La. Ct. App. 09/21/11).
Ruling: The Louisiana Court of Appeal held that an operator was entitled to benefits for his injuries despite a positive drug screen for marijuana.
What it means: In Louisiana, in order for an intoxication defense to apply, a positive drug test must be verified or confirmed by gas chromatography, gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy, or another comparably reliable analytical method.
A water truck operator was injured when he stuck his foot through an open hatch on the front of a machine while working on a road building job. Rotating blades inside the machine caught his foot, severing his ankle until his foot was nearly amputated. He was taken to a hospital for treatment. He told hospital staff he did not use "street drugs." He received a urine drug screen and tested positive for marijuana at a level in excess of the legal threshold for intoxication due to marijuana, excluding the possibility of passive inhalation. The operator admitted to smoking marijuana two weeks before the accident. He sought temporary total disability benefits and medical expenses. The Louisiana Court of Appeal held that the operator was entitled to benefits.
The employer argued that the operator should have been presumed to be intoxicated at the time of the accident due to the failed drug screen. The court explained that the law requires positive drug test to be verified or confirmed by gas chromatography, gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy, or another comparably reliable analytical method in order for the intoxication defense to apply. The drug test here was unconfirmed and unverified.
The employer did not provide other reliable evidence to show that the operator was intoxicated at the time of the accident. No one saw him smoke marijuana or act strangely on the day of the accident. Although he "exhibited extremely poor judgment" in kicking through the open hatch of the machine, the court said his decision was not proof that he was intoxicated.
The court noted that the operator was under the influence of morphine, was unable to sign his name on hospital consent forms, and was under severe shock and distress from the accident when he denied using "street drugs" to the hospital staff. The false statement did not forfeit his benefits.
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October 31, 2011
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