Two workers who tested positive for marijuana after being injured in an explosion after they tried to use a blow torch to open a 55-gallon drum that had contained flammable liquid were rightly denied workers’ compensation, the Arkansas Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday.
In a split decision, the court upheld a state Workers’ Compensation Commission ruling against Matthew Edmisten and Greg Prock in a case resulting from a November 2007 accident, reports John Lyon at the Arkansas News Bureau.
Three dissenting judges said there was no evidence that the accident occurred because of marijuana use.
According to the court’s majority opinion, Edmisten held the barrel — which had earlier contained marine oil — while Prock applied an acetylene torch in an attempt to cut it open. The resulting explosion engulfed both men in flames; they escaped by jumping into Bull Shoals Lake in North Arkansas.
The men testified at a hearing that they had not used marijuana on the day of the accident, though they admitted using it in the past. A coworker backed them up, testifying he had seen both men on the day of the accident and they did not seem to be impaired.
Edmisten and Prock also said they had not been warned against using a torch to open the barrels; Prock testified that he had used that method before.
An administrative law judge ruled that the injuries were the result of an attempt to finish a task quickly, not the result of drug use. The Workers’ Compensation Commission overturned that ruling, claiming that the men’s testimony was “not credible.”
The commission also claimed the testimony of their coworker that the men did not appear impaired was “not persuasive” because about 90 minutes passed between when the coworker saw the men and the accident, and the men could have smoked marijuana during that interval.
In its majority opinion on Wednesday, the Court of Appeals said the Workers’ Compensation Commission head weighed the credibility of the witnesses and reached a “reasonable conclusion.”
“We affirm because the commission’s decision displays a substantial basis for the denial of relief,” Judge Doug Martin wrote in the majority opinion in Prock’s appeal.
Judges David Glover, John Pitman, John Robbins, Waymond Brown and Josephine Linker Hart joined Martin in voting to uphold the commission. Judges Larry Vaught, Raymond Abramson and Cliff Hoofman voted to overturn the commission, and kudos to them for that.
“The commission had to resort to speculation or conjecture to conclude that the use of marijuana caused the accident because there was no evidence of impairment and no evidence that drug use caused this accident,” Judge Abramson wrote in the minority opinion on Prock’s appeal.