First Quarter 2017
By: Andrew Wood
Question: Under Iowa Law, if an employee tests positive for drugs, can the employer deny or limit benefits of his or her workers’ compensation claim?
Short Answer: Yes. In Iowa, no compensation shall be awarded under the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Act if the injury is caused by the employee’s intoxication. Furthermore, the injury cannot arise out of and in the course of employment but must be due to the effects of alcohol or drugs not prescribed by an authorized medical practitioner, and the intoxication was a substantial factor in causing the injury. The burden of proof is on the employer to show intoxication, that the intoxication was the cause in fact of the injury, and that the intoxication was a substantial factor in producing the injury.
Discussion: Under Iowa law, Iowa Code § 730.5(8)(f): Employers may conduct drug or alcohol testing when investigating accidents in the workplace where the accident resulted in an injury to a person for which injury, if suffered by an employee, a record or report could be required under chapter 88.
Iowa Code § 85.16: No compensation under this Chapter shall be allowed for an injury caused by the employee’s intoxication, which did not arise out of and in the course of employment, but which was due to the effects of alcohol or another narcotic, depressant, stimulant, hallucinogenic, or hypnotic drug not prescribed by an authorized medical practitioner, if the intoxication was a substantial factor in causing the injury.
A person is “under the influence of alcohol,” or “intoxicated” under Iowa’s workers’ compensation statute, and thus precluded from recovering workers’ compensation benefits, when one or more of the following are true: (1) the person’s reason or mental ability has been affected; (2) the person’s judgment is impaired; (3) the person’s emotions are visibly excited; and (4) the person has to any extent lost control of bodily actions or motions. See Garcia v. Naylor Concrete Co., 650 N.W.2d 87, 90 (Iowa 2002). The burden is on the employer in a workers’ compensation case to prove the elements of intoxication, and that the intoxication was both the cause in fact of the injury and a substantial factor in producing it. See, id.
In Garcia, the claimant, a welder for the respondent construction company, fell while welding on a roof. The claimant was transferred to a hospital, where urine and blood samples revealed an alcohol concentration of .094 thirty minutes after his fall, and after he had received fluids intravenously. Claimant reported to not have had any alcohol after 10:45 p.m. the night before the fall. The Iowa Workers Compensation Commission denied benefits on the basis that claimant’s intoxication caused his injury. The Supreme Court of Iowa held that an expert toxicologist’s testimony that claimant’s blood alcohol level would affect his peripheral vision, cause tunnel vision, his balance, coordination, dexterity, and his ability to see and perceive the world around him, was sufficient to establish that intoxication caused the injury and to deny benefits.
In Marshall v. Jensen Transport, Inc., Nos. 1999-468, 9-725, 98-2068, 2000 WL 18753 (Iowa Ct. of App. 2000), the claimant, a truck driver for respondent, suffered two compression fractures to his spine, two collapsed lungs, two broken ribs, a head laceration, and a separated shoulder as a result of an accident while attempting to haul a load from Cedar Rapids to Chicago. When transported to the hospital, a routine test of claimant’s urine revealed the presence of marijuana metabolites. Expert witnesses for both parties conceded the test could not identify the level of active ingredients in claimant’s system and, therefore, could not establish intoxication. Claimant denied smoking marijuana at any time within two days of the accident. Nurse’s notes, however, indicated that the day of the accident, Claimant indicated he smoked marijuana “yesterday afternoon.” A state trooper further discovered marijuana and a pipe in claimant’s truck, but there was no evidence that claimant used marijuana in the vehicle. An Iowa Court of Appeals found that the evidence supported a finding that claimant ingested marijuana within 12 to 24 hours of the accident. This supported a finding that claimant was intoxicated which was the cause of the injury.
In conclusion, an employee may be denied benefits if an employer presents evidence that an employee was intoxicated, and that the intoxication was both the cause in fact of the injury and a substantial factor in producing it. If an employer can establish this before the workers’ compensation commission, the decision is rarely reversed on appeal.