Positive marijuana test after unexplained fall blocks benefits
Case name: Davidson v. Business Personnel Solutions, No. E2010-02366-WC-R3-WC (Tenn. 12/12/11, unpublished).
Ruling: In an unpublished decision, the Tennessee Supreme Court held that a laborer was not entitled to benefits because he was intoxicated at the time of his injury.
What it means: In Tennessee, a worker's positive test for drug use after an unexplained fall shows that the worker's intoxication was the proximate cause of his injuries.
A laborer for a landscaping company was injured when he fell from a tree. A coworker said that the laborer smoked marijuana on the way to the jobsite. The owner of the company instructed workers not to climb the trees. During a break, the laborer began to scale a large limb the workers planned to remove. Coworkers reminded him of the owner's instruction, but the laborer said he did not hear them. In the hospital the day after the fall, the laborer tested positive for marijuana at a level more than 50 times the threshold for a positive result. He sought workers' compensation benefits. The Tennessee Supreme Court held that the laborer was not entitled to benefits because he was intoxicated at the time of his injury.
The court explained that the company did not meet the criteria for a drug-free workplace, so it had the burden of showing intoxication was more than "merely a remote or contributing cause" of the injury. Here, the laborer was unable to explain how he fell. There was no indication that he slipped or that a limb or branch had broken. He also admitted to regularly using marijuana. Without another explanation for the fall, the court concluded that the laborer's intoxication was more than "merely a remote or contributing cause."
The company also argued that the laborer's willful misconduct barred his claim. The court rejected this argument. The laborer received specific instructions not to climb trees. When he began to climb the tree, his coworkers reminded him of the instruction. The court said that the laborer's marijuana levels were extraordinarily high, which prevented him from acting willfully.
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February 2, 2012
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