Drug Testing: Tennessee Supreme Court Holds Off-Duty Marijuana Use No Reason to Deny Workman's Comp Claim

The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that a machine-shop worker whose fingers were smashed in an on-the-job accident could not be denied workman's compensation benefits for admitted off-the-job marijuana use. His employer had sought to deny his claim, arguing that he had violated the company's drug-free workplace policy and that his off-duty pot-smoking had impaired his reaction time, causing the injury.

The ruling came in Interstate Mechanical Contractors v. Billy McIntosh, in which McIntosh's left hand was caught in a power roller machine after a new employee he was teaching to operate it engaged the rollers while McIntosh was setting a piece of metal. McIntosh lost parts of his middle and index fingers. While hospitalized, he tested positive for marijuana and admitted smoking it the night before he was injured.

Tennessee's drug-free workplace law presumes that any injuries to an employee who tests positive for illicit drugs are caused by drug use, but the law also allows employees to enter evidence to rebut that assumption. McIntosh successfully did just that. Although a state medical toxicologist testified "that the level of THC in McIntosh's system at the time of the injury would have impaired his reaction time," both McIntosh's co-worker and his shop foreman testified that he did not appear impaired. The injury he suffered was caused not by pot-smoking but by an inexperienced employee, McIntosh argued.

The trial court agreed, the company appealed, and now the state Supreme Court has upheld the original verdict. "In this case, the undisputed evidence... was that there would be no time to react if a person had a hand next to a roller when it was engaged," Justice William M. Barker wrote in the opinion. "The rollers immediately grabbed McIntosh's hand. McIntosh had no time to react."

Mark this down as a victory for workers.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Rolling a Smoking one or Smoking a Rolled one?

The new dude should have had a few tokes to lighten up before he started to learn to run the rolling mill. He would have been a lot more careful and certainly would have paid closer attention to what was going on. The process might have gone a good deal slower and that days production might have suffered.... But Billy would still have all his digits....

Personally I never run power tools when baked....But I know guys who have worked the last 35 years in their own shops...Stoned every day, still doing fine work and yet owning all their fingers. Welding can get really boring without a lift every now and then. Any task which takes more than average dexterity, involves dangerous moving parts, explosives or fire I do straight.

Uncle Buster

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