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Workers’ Compensation: One Toke Over the Causation Line?

Posted by Frank Steinberg | May 09, 2007 | 0 Comments

Maybe the lifestyle in South Dakota really is more laid-back than here in the high-pressure East.  Thomas VanSteenwyck worked for Baumgartner Trees and Landscaping as a laborer and landscaper.  He was a regular marijuana smoker for many years.  He didn't smoke on the job, but relaxed with the evil weed after work and in the evenings.

After an evening in which he smoked between 3 and 5 joints, VanSteenwyck went to work in the morning, where he worked on a piece of equipment known as a skid loader.  Witnesses testified that he showed no signs of impairment.  While so engaged he suffered a serious crush injury.

On VanSteenwyck's application for comp benefits there was conflicting expert testimony as to whether he was impaired by his marijuana usage.  One doctor said yes, one said no.  So, with apologies to Brewer & Shipley, was VanSteenwyck "one toke over the line"?  The evidence probably could have supported a finding either way.

The critical finding was the lack expert testimony that, even if he was impaired, the impairment was a proximate cause of his injury.  The Department of Labor awarded benefits.

The Supreme Court of South Dakota affirmed, in an opinion here.

 So, at least in the Mount Rushmore State, you can be one toke over the line and still collect workers' compensation benefits — sometimes.

About the Author

Frank Steinberg

Frank is the founder and principal of Steinberg Law, LLC. A Jersey boy born and bred, he focuses on employment litigation and counseling, business litigation,  and aviation law. Following law school and a clerkship in the federal district court Frank spent his early career with large litigation ...

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