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An injured worker who tested positive for illegal drugs after a work accident should receive workers compensation benefits because testimony in his favor prevailed over any presumption that he was impaired on the job, the Louisiana Court of Appeal has ruled.
Shannon Todd Bordelon severely injured his finger while working for Houston-based Key Energy Inc. in April 2012, according to court records. Mr. Bordelon said the accident happened when a crank he was using to lower a light tower spun out of control, striking his hand.
Mr. Bordelon was treated at a nearby hospital for a finger fracture and laceration, records show. A post-accident drug test showed that Mr. Bordelon tested positive for cocaine and amphetamines.
Based on Mr. Bordelon's drug test, Key Energy denied workers comp benefits to him and terminated his employment in May 2012. The condition of Mr. Bordelon's finger worsened after that, and medical providers denied him treatment in light of the work-related nature of his problem, records show.
Mr. Bordelon ultimately underwent two surgeries, and part of his finger was amputated, according to court records. He filed an appeal seeking workers comp benefits, as well as penalties against Key Energy.
At a hearing, Mr. Bordelon denied using cocaine, but said he had taken two of his girlfriend's weight loss pills two days before his accident, records show. He denied being under the influence of that drug when he was injured.
A Louisiana workers comp judge ruled in Mr. Bordelon's favor, finding that his alleged drug use did not cause the work accident, records show. The judge found that Key Energy failed to properly investigate Mr. Bordelon's accident after using the drug test to deny his benefits, and the company was ordered to pay a $2,000 penalty and $15,750 for Mr. Bordelon's attorney fees.
A three-judge panel of the Louisiana Court of Appeals upheld the judge's ruling on May 7.
Key Energy argued that the workers comp judge failed to presume that Mr. Bordelon was intoxicated and that it caused his accident. The appeals court noted that there was no testimony suggesting that Mr. Bordelon appeared impaired at work.
“Mr. Bordelon explained that the accident occurred on a damp morning when the handle to the light tower crank was wet,” the ruling reads. “He stated simply that, unlike other cranks he was accustomed to, this crank did not have a safety mechanism on it and that the wet handle slipped from his hand, spun out of control, and struck his hand. The workers compensation judge acted within its fact-finding role in accepting that testimony as credible.”
The court also upheld the penalties against Key Energy because the company disciplined Mr. Bordelon only based on his drug test without further investigation.
Even “in the presence of the positive drug screen, Mr. Bordelon offered the only evidence regarding the contributing causation of intoxication, or lack thereof, by denying that he had suffered from the effects of any substance taken prior to the occurrence,” the ruling reads. “Neither did his medical records reflect any observations regarding intoxication. Finally, Mr. Bordelon's girlfriend testified that when she spoke with Mr. Bordelon immediately after the accident, he was in pain, but he did not otherwise sound impaired.”