judge 1587300 640

Minn. Worker’s Cocaine Use Days Earlier Didn’t ‘Intoxicate’ him During Wreck

05 Apr, 2023 Frank Ferreri

judge 1587300 640
                               

Minneapolis, MN (WorkersCompensation.com) -- What bearing could cocaine have on an employee's work-related injury?

It depends on whether the employee was "intoxicated" at the time of the accident, and as was on display in Morales v. Installed Buidling Products, No. WC22-6485 (Minn. W.C.C. App. 03/27/23), the court had to face the question of whether fiberglass or a different kind of dust caused a worker's accident on the job.

A fiberglass insulation installer for a building products company was using a company truck to return to the company's shop one day. The installer became distracted by fiberglass dust in his eyes, and he lost control of the truck, crashing into an electric pole.

The installer was trapped in the truck by the collision, was extricated from the wreckage by emergency responders, and was airlifted to a hospital for emergency medical care.

At the hospital, the installer was diagnosed with a fractured left femur, a soft tissue injury to his left knee, low back pain, and a closed head injury. He was given medication for pain, including immediate-release oxycodone.

A rapid drug test the installer underwent at the hospital came back positive for the presence of cocaine metabolites.

The company and its insurer denied responsibility for the installer's injuries, citing to results of drug testing and taking the position that the collision and resulting injuries were due to the installer's intoxication.

A forensic toxicologist reported that the presence of cocaine metabolites and the absence of cocaine in the installer's blood tested at the hospital indicated only that there had been cocaine use "some days prior," not intoxication at the time of the accident.

Later, one of the independent medical evaluation doctors issued a supplemental report to restate his opinion that the installer had used cocaine more recently than reported and that the accident was "more likely" caused by "cocaine washout."

At the hearing before the compensation judge, the installer testified that he had been given cocaine at a club three days prior to the motor vehicle accident and that was his only recent use of cocaine. A coworker described the installer's behavior and demeanor as normal on the two days leading up to the accident.

Finding that the installer's injuries were not the result of intoxication, the compensation judge awarded temporary total disability benefits.

The company and insurer appealed to the Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals, arguing that the installer's use of cocaine, a violation of the company's drug policy, was misconduct that disqualified the installer from receiving TTD benefits.

Under Minnesota law, use of illegal drugs is not a per se disqualification from receipt of workers' compensation benefits. For a misconduct defense, an employer and insurer must demonstrate a direct relationship between the prohibited conduct and the employee's injury.

The WCC did not such a connection.

"Substantial evidence, including credible testimony of the employee and a coworker and the well-founded opinion of a forensic toxicologist, supports the determination ... that the employee's drug use did not result in intoxication that was a proximate cause of the ... accident," the court wrote.

As a result, the lower judge's decision was upheld.

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    About The Author

    • Frank Ferreri

      Frank Ferreri, M.A., J.D. covers workers' compensation legal issues. He has published books, articles, and other material on multiple areas of employment, insurance, and disability law. Frank received his master's degree from the University of South Florida and juris doctor from the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

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