A court had two decisions to make in this workers’ comp case: Is driving to a drug test in the course and scope of work? And did an overdose of a prescription medication cause a car crash?
Jeffrey Tennant worked for Fire Safety Investigations in West Virginia as a safety consultant.
On Oct. 1, 2013, his boss heard Tennant was acting erratically and strangely. The boss received a request to send a replacement for Tennant. His boss told Tennant to report to a facility for a drug test.
On his way to take the drug test, Tennant crashed his car and was injured. Tennant filed for workers’ comp benefits.
A toxicology report found Tennant tested positive for Xanax, an anti-anxiety prescription medication. Tennant had a prescription for Xanax. The concentration of Xanax in his system was 7,100 mg/ml. The normal detectable amount of Xanax should have been 300 mg/ml, therefore Tennant had more than 23 times the detectable level in his blood stream when he was tested after the car crash.
A board-certified toxicologist found the level of the drug in Tennant’s system impaired his motor skills, his overall judgment and his ability to operate a motor vehicle safely. The toxicologist found this was a substantial contributing factor to the crash.
A claims administrator denied Tennant’s workers’ comp application. The West Virginia Workers’ Compensation Board of Review upheld the decision. Tennant appealed to a West Virginia court.
- The crash happened during and in the court of his employment, and
- His intoxication on Xanax wasn’t the cause of his injury.
The appeals court found that, since Tennant’s boss ordered him to report for the drug test, the crash did happen during and in the course of work.
But West Virginia law says an employee isn’t entitled to workers’ comp benefits if the injury was caused by the employee’s intoxication.
The court noted witnesses said Tennant was acting erratically before he left for the drug test. The toxicology report said he had more than 23 times the detectable level of Xanax in his blood when he was tested after the crash. The toxicologist’s opinion on how this would impact Tennant’s ability to safely drive a car was also a factor.
For those reasons, the court agreed with the previous ruling that Tennant’s intoxication was a substantial contributing factor in his car crash, therefore he shouldn’t receive workers’ comp benefits.
What do you think about the court’s decision? Have you had a situation in which an employee’s use of prescription medication has contributed to a safety incident? Let us know in the comments.
(Jeffrey Tennant v. Fire Safety Investigations, West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, No. 15-0158, 12/11/15)