Can a worker collect workers’ compensation benefits if they were intoxicated when the injury occurred? A Texas appeals court said no when it ruled against a worker who had a high blood-alcohol concentration when he was injured at work.
Texas law says that if an employee is intoxicated at the time of injury then they are barred from receiving workers’ compensation, so the appeals court upheld a trial court’s ruling denying the worker benefits since medical records proved he was intoxicated when he was injured.
Blood test shows BAC above state’s legal limit
Rigoverto Balderas worked at Houston Foam Plastics. On Dec. 17, 2015, he was dumping Styrofoam into a grinder when his left arm got pulled into the machine, causing serious injuries to his left arm, upper left body and face.
While being treated for his injuries in a local hospital, a blood test revealed he had a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.117, which is above the state’s legal limit of 0.08.
Balderas filed a workers’ compensation claim, and an administrative law judge denied the claim because he was intoxicated at the time of his injury.
Test results inaccurate because they’re based on plasma?
An administrative appeals panel upheld the decision, so Balderas sought appeal in a district trial court where he attempted to have the results of his blood test excluded because they were:
- unreliable and could mislead the jury, and
- inadmissible under the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) because he didn’t consent to the test.
He also claimed that his test results were inaccurate since they were based on blood plasma rather than whole blood.
The trial court denied the exclusion after a medical toxicologist testified that, based on the lab results of Balderas’ blood plasma, he would have had a whole-blood BAC of 0.123 at the time of his injuries, which is still above the legal limit.
Balderas then argued that he should get an exclusion since there was no evidence that he didn’t have normal use of his mental and physical faculties at the time he was injured, but the court upheld the earlier denial of exclusion.
The jury found Balderas was intoxicated when he was injured and upheld the appeals panel decision denying him benefits. Balderas filed an appeal with the state’s Fourteenth District Court of Appeals.
Sufficient legal evidence proving intoxication
On appeal, Balderas argued there was no legally admissible proof he was intoxicated when he was injured.
But the appeals court upheld the trial court decision, finding there was sufficient legal evidence proving Balderas was intoxicated at the time of his injury. The court also rejected his blood plasma v. whole blood argument.