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Ruling could set precedent for Workers’ Comp cases and drug use

An Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals Judge recently ruled that a positive drug test should not impact an employee’s Workers’ Comp benefits. In this case, the injured employee was attempting to fix a piece of heavy machinery when a coworker activated it. The machine then crushed the worker’s hand. While receiving treatment, the man subsequently tested positive for marijuana, which called into question whether the injury was his fault.

The Appeals Court judge, however, ruled that “the presence of an intoxicating substance in the blood does not automatically mean the person is intoxicated.” Unlike alcohol that leaves the body as the intoxicating effects wear off, marijuana is known to remain in the body for a month or more after the intoxicating effects wear off.

In this case, the man had smoked marijuana the previous night. Co-workers claimed that they saw no indication that he was intoxicated on the job. The judge also cited lack of evidence from Berry Plastics, the employer, that the worker was intoxicated at the time of the injury.

According to news reports, the courts initially ruled in favor of the employee, but the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission (OWCC) called the worker’s testimony self serving. The appeal claimed that the OWCC exceeded its duty and the judge agreed.

Impacting marijuana users and others

There is no word on whether Berry Plastics will appeal to the state’s Supreme Court, but the Associated Press claims that this ruling could be a precedent that impact’s federal law regarding on-the-job injuries.

Here in California, this will have a bearing on cases where the injured has legal access to marijuana or other prescription drugs. Those with questions how this ruling or other laws apply should consult with an attorney with experience representing clients involved in a workplace accident.