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Injured worker loses appeal on positive drug test

A divided appeals court Friday upheld a decision to deny workers’ compensation insurance benefits to a hospital housekeeper who tested positive for marijuana after falling on the job and dislocating her shoulder.

In a 2-1 ruling, a panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled against Bonita Brinson, who was employed by Hospital Housekeeping Services, LLC, and was working at Capital Regional Medical Center in Tallahassee when she was injured, according to court documents.

Brinson was taken to a medical clinic after she fell and provided a urine sample, which tested positive for marijuana.

Friday’s ruling said state workers’ compensation insurance law presumes in such cases that injuries were caused primarily by the influence of drugs.

Workers can overcome that presumption by presenting “clear and convincing evidence” that drugs did not contribute to the injuries, the ruling said.

The majority opinion said Brinson failed to overcome the presumption.

“Ms. Brinson’s witnesses left open the question of whether she was under the influence when the accident occurred,” said the opinion, written by Judge Timothy Osterhaus and joined by Judge Joseph Lewis. “They didn’t know whether the drugs in her system contributed to her injury, and so failed to testify effectively for purposes of rebutting (the legal) presumption.”

But Judge Scott Makar wrote a lengthy dissent that pointed to a lack of evidence that she was under the influence of drugs.

“At a minimum, the expert testimony and scientific evidence at trial debunked the widespread misconception that testing positive for marijuana use necessarily correlates with intoxication or influence at the time of the accident,” Makar wrote. “To the contrary, as her expert explained, the drug test that Brinson was required to take detects only inactive metabolites, the presence of which proves only that the employee — at some indeterminate and potentially distant point in the past — had marijuana in her system; it does not itself prove, or even infer, impairment at the time of the test or the accident.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

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