The Arkansas Supreme Court reversed two state appellate court decisions Thursday that denied workers compensation benefits to two men who failed a drug test after a work accident.
Greg Prock and his co-worker, Matthew Edmisten, worked for Bull Shoals Landing marina in Lakeview, Ark., and were injured in 2007 while removing the tops of two empty oil barrels. According to court records, Mr. Prock used an acetylene torch to remove the lids, causing one of the barrels to explode and set the men “pretty much totally on fire.”
The Arkansas Court of Appeals ruled in separate 2012 cases that neither Mr. Prock nor Mr. Edmisten could receive workers comp benefits because they tested positive for marijuana use after the accident. Arkansas law presumes that illegal substances cause a workplace accident when evidence of drug use is found.
Use of alcohol or drugs did not cause accident
In separate 3-2 rulings, the Arkansas Supreme Court vacated the appellate court decisions for Mr. Prock and Mr. Edmisten. The high court's majority opinions held that while Mr. Prock and Mr. Edmisten tested positive for marijuana use, the men showed that their work accident “was not substantially occasioned by the use” of alcohol or drugs.
In particular, the court noted testimony from the workers and one of their co-workers that they were not intoxicated at the time of the accident, as well as that Mr. Prock and Mr. Edmisten previously had used a torch to open oil barrels at work before the day of their accident.
“The … evidence can be summarized by concluding that no one saw Prock intoxicated on the day of the accident, no one saw him ingest anything, no one had seen him impaired in any way at work on prior occasions, and, most importantly, that he performed a task that he had been asked to do in the same manner in which he had habitually performed it in the past,” the majority opinion in Mr. Prock's case reads.
The court majority in Mr. Prock's case — which aligned with the majority in Mr. Edmisten's case — concluded that “fair-minded persons would find that the accident and the injuries were the direct result of Prock's practice of opening barrels in an unsafe manner with an acetylene torch.”
In a dissent to Mr. Edmisten's case, Justice Courtney Hudson Goodson wrote that Mr. Edmisten failed to rebut the state's presumption of his accident being caused by drug use.
“Based on the evidence, the commission could find that using an acetylene torch to open a barrel, without sufficiently checking its contents and without venting the barrel, was evidence of carelessness and thus impairment,” said Justice Goodson, who wrote a similar dissent for Mr. Prock's case.
Both cases were remanded to the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission for a determination of benefits.