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Louisiana’s Third Circuit Rules Lake Charles Server Who Tested Positive for Drugs May Receive Workers’ Compensation Benefits

Louisiana’s Third Circuit Rules Lake Charles Server Who Tested Positive for Drugs May Receive Workers’ Compensation Benefits

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals of Louisiana held a worker who tested positive for both marijuana and Xanax following a 2008 workplace injury was entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits.

Deloris Stenson was employed as a waitress at Pat’s of Henderson Seafood when she allegedly tripped over a box of potatoes left in the walkway of a food preparation area. Stenson immediately went to the emergency room at a local hospital for her injuries. While being treated, she was also tested for drugs and alcohol in accordance with restaurant policy. After Stenson tested positive for marijuana and Xanax, her employer’s insurer denied all workers’ compensation benefits except for the costs associated with her emergency room visit.

Because Stenson had a prescription for Xanax and admitted to taking the drug for a back problem on the day of the accident, a workers’ compensation judge determined intoxication was not a cause of her accident. The judge ordered the restaurant to pay Stenson temporary total disability benefits and medical benefits. Following the workers’ compensation judge’s ruling, her employer appealed to Louisiana’s Third Circuit.

On appeal, the restaurant argued a valid drug prescription did not overcome the presumption in Louisiana Revised Statutes 23:1081 that Stenson was intoxicated at the time of her accident. Her employer also argued that the workers’ compensation judge should not have taken the prescription into account when determining whether or not Stenson was intoxicated.

Louisiana’s Third Circuit Court of Appeals, however, agreed with the workers’ compensation judge, reasoning that although the restaurant met its burden of proof regarding its employee’s alleged intoxication with her drug test results, the burden then shifted to Stenson. Once the burden shifted, it was up to Stenson to prove her drug use was not a contributing case of her accident. The Appellate Court also found that although Stenson admitted to smoking marijuana four days prior to the accident, there was no reason to believe it was manifestly erroneous for the workers’ compensation judge to find Stenson overcame the intoxication presumption. Because no one offered testimony stating that Stenson appeared intoxicated on the day of the accident, the Appeals Court upheld the workers’ compensation judge’s ruling.

When an employee is hurt at work in Louisiana, workers’ compensation laws generally afford the only avenue for recovery. A worker may be temporarily disabled, permanently partially disabled, or permanently totally disabled as a result of a workplace injury. The Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Act provides for a variety of benefits based on the worker’s gross earnings at the time the disability began. Benefits should continue until an employee is medically released by a physician to return to work, but in some cases a workers’ compensation insurance company may be willing to settle a case for a single lump-sum payment. If you were injured at work, a qualified workers’ compensation attorney can help you determine what benefits you may qualify for.

J. Price McNamara, a Contact the Law Offices of J. Price McNamara, represents clients throughout Louisiana, including Baton Rouge, Metairie, New Orleans, Lafayette, and Mandeville. To speak with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer, call J. Price McNamara at (866) 248-0580 today. You may also contact us through our website.

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