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The family of a man who died after a work accident may be able to receive workers compensation death benefits even though the worker tested positive for marijuana, a Louisiana appellate court has ruled.
Joseph Leon Boudreaux worked as a warehouseman for Georgia-Pacific L.L.C. in Port Hudson, Louisiana. In August 2013, he was working alone during a night shift, operating a lift truck and loading materials onto trailers, according to court filings.
Sometime after midnight, Mr. Boudreaux was injured in an unwitnessed accident that ultimately lead to his death, court records show. An autopsy revealed that Mr. Boudreaux suffered blunt force injuries to his chest and head, and a coroner's investigation showed that Mr. Boudreaux's injuries were possibly caused by the rear of a trailer he was loading.
Blood and urine tests conducted after Mr. Boudreaux's death showed that he had marijuana in his system. While Mr. Boudreaux's two surviving children filed a claim for workers compensation death benefits, Georgia-Pacific said such benefits should be forfeited because Mr. Boudreaux had a positive drug test, records show.
The company argued in filings that the positive test triggered a statutory presumption under Louisiana law that Mr. Boudreaux was intoxicated at the time of his accident, and that his impairment caused his accident.
Attorneys for Mr. Boudreaux's children argued in court records that Mr. Boudreaux did not appear impaired on the night of his accident, according to testimony from his coworkers. A forensic toxicologist also testified that Mr. Boudreaux's lab tests suggested minimal marijuana use that may have occurred several days before his accident, and that he likely was not intoxicated at the time of his death.
A Louisiana workers comp judge found in favor of Georgia-Pacific and dismissed the claim from Mr. Boudreaux's family in September 2014 after ruling that the toxicologist's report was filed too late.
However, a three-judge panel of the Louisiana Court of Appeal unanimously overturned that ruling on Thursday.
While Louisiana presumes that a positive drug test could prove impairment at the time of an accident, the appellate court found that uncontradicted testimony from Mr. Boudreaux's coworkers could be sufficient to show that he was not impaired the night of his fatal accident.
“The co-workers' deposition testimonies that Boudreaux was alert, did not appear to be impaired, and was acting normally as he performed his job on the night of the accident created a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether presumed intoxication contributed to the accident,” the ruling reads. “Whether the co-workers' statements are to be believed requires a credibility determination, which is inappropriate for summary judgment.”
The case was remanded to the Louisiana Office of Workers' Compensation for further consideration.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has extended to Oct. 28 its public comment deadline on a proposed rule to clarify an employer's continuing obligation to accurately record workplace injuries and illnesses.