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Injured worker entitled to comp benefits despite positive drug test: Court


LAKE CHARLES, La.—A restaurant server who tripped over a box of potatoes is entitled to workers compensation benefits despite a post-injury drug test showing marijuana and Xanax consumption, a Louisiana appeals court ruled.

Wednesday's finding by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals of Louisiana in Deloris K. Stenson vs. Pat's of Henderson Seafood stems from a 2008 accident in which Ms. Stenson broke her wrist after falling over a box in the restaurant's food preparation area, the court record states.

She went to an emergency room immediately after the accident and was tested for drugs, as called for by her employer's workplace policy. Because of the positive drug test results, her employer and its insurer, Louisiana Retailers Mutual Insurance Co., paid only the emergency room bill and denied all other benefits.

A workers comp judge determined, however, that intoxication was not a contributing cause of the accident and awarded Ms. Stenson temporary total disability benefits and medical care.

The claimant reported taking Xanax on the day of the accident, but the judge found the drug was not at issue because it was legally prescribed for a back problem.

Pat's appealed, arguing that the judge erred by not considering whether Ms. Stenson was intoxicated due to Xanax and in finding that Ms. Stenson had overcome the presumption of intoxication.

The employer also argued that the fact that a drug is prescribed does not preclude it from consideration in determining whether the claimant was intoxicated at the time of the accident.

The appeals court agreed that the employer met a burden of proving that claimant was intoxicated at the time of the accident, but said the burden then shifted to the claimant to prove that the intoxication was not a contributing cause of the accident.

“Based on the testimony that Stenson had performed her job all morning without complaints from the customers or any other staff members and that she had smoked marijuana four days prior to the accident, not on the day of the accident, we cannot say that the WCJ was manifestly erroneous in finding that Stenson had overcome the presumption of intoxication,” the appeals court found.

“Furthermore, we agree with the workers comp judge that the accident was not of the nature that any intoxication was a contributing cause,” the appeals court continued. “Boxes of potatoes were left on the floor in front of the microwave in the ‘prep area’ where Stenson and other employees were required to go in the course of their duties. No one testified that Stenson appeared intoxicated at the time of the accident. Thus, the judge’s findings are supported by the record.”

The appeals court also upheld the workers comp judge’s decision to deny the claimant an award of penalties and attorney fees.