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Court Refuses to Consider Evidence of Drug Test in Workers’ Compensation Case Based on Unknown Chain-of-Custody

On Behalf of | Jul 12, 2018 | Georgia Workers' Compensation, Workers' Compensation Case Law |

In a recent case, an appeals court considered whether a positive drug test could be used against a claimant who was denied Georgia workers’ compensation benefits.

The Facts of the Case

The claimant was employed at a cotton gin company. He was working at the loading dock one day when a truck backed up and hit him from behind. He was crushed between the truck and the loading dock and suffered multiple injuries, including pelvic, chest, and rib fractures.

The company requested a drug test, and a lab technician obtained a urine sample while the claimant was at the hospital. The test came back positive for the presence of cannabinoid metabolites. One of the claimant’s coworkers testified that they had smoked marijuana at work together on the morning of the injury. The claimant testified that he only smoked marijuana when he was not working. The claimant also presented an expert witness who testified that marijuana metabolites can be present in urine for days or even weeks after marijuana is smoked. The employer asserted that the worker was impaired and, as a result, did not hear the truck backing up before he was struck.

Positive Drug Tests in Workers’ Compensation Cases

Under OCGA § 34-9-17, a claimant can be denied workers’ compensation benefits based on the claimant’s misconduct. One of the grounds of misconduct is for causing an injury or death due to being under the influence of marijuana. OCGA § 34-9-17(b)(2) states that “[i]f any amount of marijuana . . . is in the employee’s blood within eight hours of the time of the alleged accident,” as shown by a drug test, “there shall be a rebuttable presumption that the accident and injury or death were caused by the ingestion of marijuana.”

The Decision of the Court

The worker contended that the employer could not rely on the drug test because it did not properly collect the urine sample at the hospital. Georgia law states that all specimen collection and testing must be collected by a “physician, a physician assistant, a registered professional nurse, a licensed practical nurse, a nurse practitioner, or a certified paramedic who is present at the scene of an accident for the purpose of rendering emergency medical service or treatment” or another qualified person listed under the statute.

In this case, the lab technician went to collect the specimen at the hospital but could not enter the operating room to collect the specimen herself. A nurse provided the technician with a urine sample, but the technician did not know who collected the sample or what protocols had been followed in collecting it. The court held that because there was no evidence to show who collected the specimen, the employer could not rely on the rebuttable presumption under the statute.

Contact a Georgia Workers’ Compensation Attorney

If you have been injured in a work-related accident, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The Georgia law office of J. Franklin Burns, P.C. has decades of experience in Georgia workers’ compensation claims. As former insurance defense attorneys, our Atlanta workers’ compensation attorneys understand the other side’s tactics and will skillfully lead you through the process of obtaining benefits. We have a track record of positive case outcomes resulting in millions of dollars in compensation. To learn more about how we can help, call us for a free consultation at 404-920-4708 or fill out the contact form on our website.