An Oklahoma state court held that a positive post-accident drug test for marijuana did not prove that marijuana use caused the accident, and therefore the claimant was eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Rose v. Berry Plastics Corp. et al., 2019 OK Civ. App. 55 (Ok. Civ. Ct. App. Oct. 16, 2019).

Claimant Dillon Rose’s left hand and wrist were crushed in a “guillotine” machine while working as a machine operator for his employer. He was subjected to a post-accident drug test and tested positive for marijuana and morphine.   Rose’s workers’ compensation claim initially was denied due to the positive drug test results. At a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), Rose admitted that he smoked marijuana the night before the accident but denied that its use was a factor in the accident the next day. On the day of the accident, Rose worked for a few hours and testified that no supervisors remarked that he was or appeared to be impaired. While he acknowledged that putting his hand inside the machine was unsafe, he testified that he was “thinking clearly” and was not impaired. A manager employed by the employer testified that he had no knowledge of Rose being intoxicated. The ALJ ruled that the employer should provide medical treatment and temporary benefits.

The employer sought a review before the Workers’ Compensation Commission, which reversed and ruled that Rose was not entitled to benefits.

Upon review of the WCC decision, the state court ruled that the WCCC erred by concluding that Rose’s testimony was “self-serving.” Rather, the WCC was supposed to determine whether there was “clear and convincing evidence” to support the ALJ’s finding that intoxication had no causal relationship to the injury. There was no evidence to refute Rose’s statements about the circumstances of the accident.

The state court also held that the WCCC erred when it stated “we are not convinced” that Rose was clear-headed at the time of the accident and that the chemicals in his system may have affected his “judgment, physical and cognitive facilities at the time of the accident.” The court rejected the WCCC’s “inference that the mere presence of marijuana in Claimant’s blood stream inevitably means he was intoxicated. . . . the presence of an intoxicating substance in the blood does not automatically mean that person is intoxicated.”

The state court reversed and reinstated the ALJ’s order providing benefits to Rose.