Positive drug test results alone aren’t always enough to prove impairment contributed to a workplace injury or death, as an Aug. 28 court decision proves.
A worker who tested positive for a large quantity of marijuana showed no signs of being impaired before a fall that led to his death, so his widow can continue to receive death benefits, according to the Supreme Court of Kansas.
THC found in bloodstream following fall
Gary Woessner worked for Labor Max Staffing at a feed mill, where he fell from a catwalk and suffered a severe traumatic head injury.
No one saw him fall, and the cause remains unexplained, according to the supreme court decision.
Woessner died six months later from the injuries suffered in the incident.
While in the hospital, a toxicology screen was performed indicating a positive result for a large quantity of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
The amount found was high enough to trigger a conclusive impairment presumption under state law, and Labor Max requested additional testing for confirmation.
No death benefits for widow
During Woessner’s months of treatment, Labor Max paid workers’ compensation benefits for temporary total disability and for his care while in the hospital.
The company stopped paying after getting confirmation on the THC levels, leaving Woessner’s widow without death benefits.
She contested the decision before an administrative law judge, arguing her husband wasn’t impaired at the time of the incident.
Co-worker saw no signs of use
Labor Max submitted the two drug test reports as evidence and presented testimony from a forensic toxicologist, who agreed Woessner had to have recently consumed marijuana for it to appear in his bloodstream so soon after the incident.
He admitted he didn’t know if marijuana use contributed to Woessner’s death and couldn’t say “the active ingredient was present because they didn’t test for it” so he couldn’t tell what the level of impairment was.
Woessner’s widow testified she didn’t see him on the morning of the incident as he’d spent the night with their daughter and grandchildren, who said he didn’t consume any marijuana while at their residence.
She told the judge she only knew of one instance when her husband consumed marijuana, which was about a month prior to the incident.
A co-worker, who worked with Woessner every day, testified he’d spent 10 to 15 minutes working near him the day of the incident and saw him no more than five minutes before his fall.
He said Woessner seemed normal, but admitted he was no expert in identifying drug impairment symptoms.
Evidence fails to support results
The judge felt Woessner was impaired and found in favor of Labor Max, but the state’s Workers’ Compensation Board overturned the decision. An appeals court then overturned the the board’s decision.
Because the positive drug test results triggered the presumption on impairment, Woessner’s widow had to prove impairment didn’t contribute to her husband’s death, according to the supreme court.
Since the toxicologist couldn’t give an opinion on the level of impairment indicated on the test results, and because Woessner’s co-worker couldn’t verify Woessner was impaired on the day of the incident, the supreme court found in favor of the widow.