Man Denied Workers Compensation; Marijuana Led to Accident

Submitted by NORML on Jan 13, 2012

An Arkansas Court of Appeals decided to deny a workers compensation award to an employee because they say his marijuana use contributed to the explosion that burned him.

Greg Prock was working for Bull Shoals Landing Marina when he and a coworker were asked to remove the tops of two empty oil barrels. He had been told on a previous occasion to use an air chisel to open oil barrels to avoid creating sparks that could ignite the oil, according to the Marina’s co-owner. In this case, Mr. Prock used an acetylene torch to take the barrel top off, something that he routinely did according to co-workers, without instance. But this time, a spark ignited the oil in the barrel, creating a fireball that set both men on fire.

The men were drug tested after the accident, something that is routine in most workplace accidents all over the nation. Both men tested positive for marijuana. One of the Marina’s owners testified in court that Mr. Prock exhibited what he called “suspicious behavior the morning of the accident, and Mr. Prock testified in court that he did smoke marijuana three to four times a week after work, but never before. He also testified in court that he had not had any marijuana two full weeks before the accident because he was trying to pass a drug test for a potential new employer.

An administrative law judge ruled that the accident was caused by Mr. Prock attempting to finish a task quickly, and ruled he was credible when he said he did not smoke marijuana that morning. The Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission reversed that ruling, saying that Mr. Prock’s credibility was in question because there were other inconsistencies in his testimony, as well as testimony about his behavior that morning from his boss and his co-worker that was also burned in the accident.

Yesterday, an appellate court upheld that workers compensation commission decision, adding that Arkansas law presumes that illegal substances caused a workplace accident when evidence of drug use is found. They said the burden of proof was not upon the employer in this situation to prove that Prock was impaired prior to the explosion that resulted in his injuries, but rather the burden was on the employee to prove that it wasn’t caused by the drug use, when drug use is found evident.

Out of the nine judges on the appellate court three of them disagreed with the opinion. One of those judges said that since he had used the torch in the past to open barrels, that proved that his use of marijuana may not have directly caused the accident. Judge Raymond Abramson noted that Mr. Prock method of opening barrels that way was dangerous, but said there was no direct causal link between the drug use and the explosion, and that Mr. Prock should be awarded full benefits.

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