On February 8, 2018, in Bowlin v. Servall, LLC, the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board affirmed the trial court ruling in favor of one of NST’s clients who was injured on the job. Following the trial court ruling that out client was entitled to medical benefits for her severe neck injury resulting from an automobile accident, the employer appealed alleging that the employer’s substantial compliance with the Tennessee Drug-Free Workplace Program rules was sufficient for the employee’s claim to be denied due to her drug test results that showed positive for marijuana. The employer additionally claimed that the trial court erred in awarding attorney’s fees based upon the unpaid medical bills.
In Tennessee, a workers’ compensation claim can be denied if an injured worker tests positive for any illegal substance, even if the injured worker was not actually under the influence of the illegal substance at the time of the injury. For example, if an employee used marijuana seven (7) days before that employee was injured at work, the employer can maintain denial of the claim based on the positive drug test results following the injury.
In the event an injured worker tests positive for any illegal substance following an injury, the viability of their claim may depend on whether their employer is certified through the Tennessee Drug-Free Workplace Program and follows all statutory requirements of this Program.
If the employer is certified and follows the Program requirements, then the employer benefits from the legal presumption that the employee’s intoxication or drug use was the proximate cause of the injury. This presumption may be rebutted by the injured worker through clear and convincing evidence that the intoxication or drug use was not the proximate cause of the injury; however, meeting this burden of proof can be an uphill battle. On the other hand, if the employer is not certified through the Program, then the employer bears the burden of establishing the employee’s intoxication or drug use was the proximate cause of the accident in order to deny benefits. In short, depending upon the employer’s participation in the Program and depending upon the facts of the case, the employer may not be able to justify denial of the injured workers’ claim.
In Bowlin, the employer argued that its substantial compliance with the Tennessee Drug-Free Workplace Program rules accompanied with its filings for certification through the Program in prior years, was sufficient to entitle the employer to the presumption that the employee’s drug test results that showed positive for marijuana warranted a determination that her drug use was the proximate cause of her injury, and thus, her claim for workers’ compensation benefits should be denied.
On behalf of our injured client, Monica Rejaei of Nahon, Saharovich & Trotz, asserted that since the employer had not properly filed its application for certification with the Tennessee Drug-Free Workplace Program for the year in which the employee was injured, that the employer could not stand under the umbrella of protection afforded to employers that were properly certified through the Program. Additionally, Ms. Rejaei contended that the employer presented insufficient evidence at trial to meet its burden of proof that the employee’s drug test results that showed positive for marijuana should amount to a finding that her drug use was the proximate cause of her injury.
The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board sided with NST’s client who was severely injured and affirmed the trial court decision awarding medical benefits for her injury. In its holding, the Appeals Board concluded that the employer was not a participant in the Tennessee Drug-Free Workplace Program when the employee was injured, and additionally, that the employer presented no evidence that the employee was intoxicated at the time of the injury or that such intoxication was the proximate cause of the injury.
Regarding the trial court award of attorney’s fees based upon the unpaid medical bills under Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-226(a)(1), the Appeals Board determined that the award for fees was premature at the interlocutory stage of the case; however, the Appeals Board ruling did not bar reconsideration of the requested attorney’s fees at the full conclusion of the case.
NST’s lawyers continually research the law and regularly attend legal seminars to help their clients receive workers’ compensation benefits. If you or a loved one has been injured on the job, contact the workers’ compensation division of Nahon, Saharovich & Trotz. For a free and confidential consultation with a lawyer, call us today or complete our contact form. At NST, we protect injured workers.