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The drug test results of an injured worker were not indicative of his faculties at the time of his accident and properly excluded, held a circuit court in a negligence lawsuit filed by the worker against several third parties.
In Hale v. Wood Group PSN Inc., a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a $2.25 million jury award to an employee seriously injured during a transfer between vessels.
Orvel Hale worked as an erosion and corrosion technician for Oceaneering Inc., which required him to spend extended periods offshore accessing platforms via offshore supply vessels. Prior to his employment with Oceaneering, he had suffered a shoulder injury and was prescribed hydrocodone for managing pain. He also had a prescription for Adderall.
In 2014, Mr. Hale was seriously injured during a personnel basket transfer, in which he was standing on a basket that was transferred from one vessel to another, when the basket struck equipment on the deck, causing him to fall. He sustained significant injuries to his back. A post-accident drug screen showed positive results for opiates and amphetamines.
Mr. Hale filed a claim for negligence against the companies that owned the vessels and transferring equipment. The case went before a jury trial, which found that the companies negligently caused his injuries and awarded Mr. Hale $2.25 million in general damages. The companies appealed, alleging that the magistrate judge abused her discretion in excluding evidence of his drug test at trial and that the general damages award was excessive.
The companies argued that the results of Mr. Hale’s post-accident drug screening and possession and use of prescription medication was relevant. Experts on both sides agreed that the drug screening was not a reliable indicator of Mr. Hale’s faculties at the time of the accident, and due to the lack of causal connection between Mr. Hale’s medication usage and his injuries, the magistrate determined that the evidence was “highly prejudicial and seriously lacking in probative value.”
The 5th Circuit judges agreed, finding no abuse of discretion on the part of the magistrate judge.
The companies also argued that the jury award was excessive, but the appellate court judges disagreed, holding that the companies failed to satisfy “the demanding standard” for overturning a jury award.
Attorneys in the case did not immediately respond to calls for comment.
The risk manager for Nueces County in Texas reported that he was suspended without pay for 90 days for refusing to take a random drug test, Corpus Christi’s NBC affiliate KRIS 6 reported Wednesday.