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Work-related fall ruled not compensable due to positive drug test

Posted On: Oct. 13, 2022 11:29 AM CST


An appeals court in Mississippi on Tuesday found that a steelworker with marijuana in his system did not suffer a compensable fall at work on the presumption that the drug caused his accident.

While working as a steel connector/iron worker for Cheyenne Steel Inc., Miles Meek in 2018 tripped and fell twenty feet from a beam, striking a man-lift on the way down and suffering what was an “an admitted injury during the course and scope of his employment,” according to Miles Meek v. Cheyenne Steel Inc. and American Interstate Insurance Company, filed in the Court of Appeals of Mississippi.

Mr. Meek, who injured his shoulder, hip and back, was on temporary total disability until late 2019, when he reached maximum medical improvement. He was eventually assigned a 2% impairment rating, which he argued was incorrect.

A drug test taken at the emergency room after the accident showed that he had marijuana in his system, which the company said it did not discover until two years after the accident.

Despite paying benefits, Cheyenne argued in court against the nature and extent of the injuries and the disability and pled intoxication as an affirmative defense to the claim.

Mr. Meek contended before an administrative judge that Cheyenne should have been barred from pleading intoxication as an affirmative defense “because the drug-test results submitted did not contain sufficient data to raise the presumption that his marijuana use was the proximate cause of his injury.”

In 2021 the judge found that Mr. Meek had failed to rebut the presumption of intoxication and denied and dismissed his claim. The full commission remanded the case to determine whether the claim was admitted because Cheyenne had paid benefits and whether the injury fell under the presumption of intoxication and, if so, whether he rebutted the presumption.

In response, the judge did not issue findings on the issue of intoxication but determined that because Cheyenne admitted that the injury occurred and paid benefits, the only issues to be decided were industrial loss of use and permanent disability.

Later in the year, the full commission reversed that order, finding that Mr. Meek's intoxication was the “proximate cause of the injury,” and dismissed his claim.

The appeals court agreed, writing that the law “clearly states that if a drug test shows ‘the presence, at the time of injury, of any drug illegally used . . . it shall be presumed that the proximate cause of the injury was the use of a drug illegally.’

“Marijuana … was illegal at the time of Meek's accident and no mechanism existed by which he could have legally ingested it.”