Huber, Book, Lanz & McConkey, PLLC

Intoxication Defense

Following an injury at work, while the employee was at the hospital a post-injury drug test was administered. The results of the test were positive. Can the employer and insurance carrier deny the injury based upon a positive post-injury drug test?

Maybe. Iowa Code § 85.16 (2) reads "[n]o 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." The Iowa Supreme Court has held that for the intoxication defense to apply, “the intoxication must have been both the cause in fact of the injury and a substantial factor in producing it.” Garcia v. Naylor Concrete Co., 650 N.W.2d 87, 90 (Iowa 2002). The Court in Garcia determined that a worker is intoxicated when one or more of the following apply: “(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.”

Therefore, the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner will address two issues when coming to their decision. First, it must be determined that the level of intoxication affected or impaired the worker’s reason, mental ability, or judgment, or caused the worker to lose control of his bodily actions or motions. This issue typically needs to be addressed by a medical expert. However, witness testimony concerning the worker’s behavior immediately proceeding the injury may be relevant.

Second, it must be determined whether the intoxication was a substantial factor in causing the injury. If the injury would have happened regardless of the intoxication, then the intoxication is likely not a basis for the denial.

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