Ross v. Ellard Const. Co., Inc.

CourtAlabama Court of Civil Appeals
Citation686 So.2d 1190
Decision Date05 April 1996

Page 1190

686 So.2d 1190
Charles ROSS
Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama.
April 5, 1996.
Rehearing Denied May 24, 1996.
Certiorari Quashed Dec. 13, 1996
Alabama Supreme Court 1951498.

Page 1191

Robert W. Lee, Jr. of Lee & Sullivan, P.C., Birmingham, for Appellant.

Charles F. Carr, Rhonda Pitts Chambers and Donald B. Kirkpatrick II of Rives & Peterson, Birmingham, for Appellee.


In November 1993, Charles Ross (the "worker") filed a complaint for worker's compensation benefits against Ellard Construction Company (the "company"), alleging that he had been injured in the line and scope of his employment and had suffered a permanent disability. The company filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that the worker tested positive for cocaine metabolites following the accident and that he is not entitled to compensation benefits because, the company alleged, he had been under the influence of illegal drugs at the time of the accident. Ala.Code 1975, § 25-5-51. The worker opposed the summary judgment motion, contending that the company had not proved that the accident was caused by the illegal drugs. The trial court granted the company's motion for summary judgment, and the worker appeals.

The worker argues that the illegal drug defense in Ala.Code 1975, § 25-5-51, requires that an impairment from the use of illegal drugs be the proximate cause of the accident in order for the employee to be precluded from receiving benefits. Therefore, the worker argues that an issue of material fact exists, i.e., whether the impairment caused the accident, and he argues that the trial court erred in entering the summary judgment for the company.

A motion for summary judgment is to be granted when no genuine issue of a material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Rule 56(c)(3), A.R.Civ.P. Moreover,

"In determining whether the movant has carried that burden, the court is to view the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party and to draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. To defeat a properly supported summary judgment motion, the nonmoving party must present 'substantial evidence' creating a genuine issue of material fact--'evidence of such weight and quality that fair-minded persons in the exercise of impartial judgment can reasonably infer the existence of the fact sought to be proved.' Ala.Code 1975, § 12-21-12; West v. Founders Life Assurance Co. of Florida, 547 So.2d 870, 871 (Ala.1989)."

Capital Alliance Insurance Co. v. Thorough-Clean, Inc., 639 So.2d 1349, 1350 (Ala.1994).

The facts of the case are undisputed. On June 29, 1993, 1 the tip of the worker's middle finger was cut off in a work-related accident. The worker was transported to Carraway Medical Center, where he consented to give a urine sample pursuant to the company's drug screening policy. The results of the test were positive, and the company refused to pay any compensation benefits to the worker. The company argues that the illegal drug defense in Ala.Code 1975, § 25-5-51, requires no proof of causation; the worker argues that the company must prove that his impairment from the illegal drugs proximately caused the accident in order to preclude an award of benefits.

Before the 1992 amendments, Ala.Code 1975, § 25-5-51, read, in pertinent part, as follows:

"[N]o compensation shall be allowed for an injury or death ... due to [the worker's] intoxication.... [T]he burden of proof shall be on the employer to establish such defense."

Page 1192

This court has held "in order for an employer to avail itself of the statutory intoxication defense, it must appear that the injury or death suffered by the employee was proximately caused by the employee's intoxication." Lankford v. Redwing Carriers, Inc., 344 So.2d 515, 519 (Ala.Civ.App.), cert. den., 344 So.2d 522 (Ala.1977) (emphasis added).

Following the 1992 amendments, § 25-5-51, states, in pertinent part:

"[N]o compensation shall be allowed for an injury or death caused by ... an accident due to the injured employee being intoxicated from the use of alcohol or being impaired by illegal drugs.

"A positive drug test conducted and evaluated pursuant to standards adopted for drug testing by the U.S. Department of Transportation in 49 C.F.R. Part 40 shall be a conclusive presumption of impairment resulting from the use of illegal drugs."

No Alabama cases have addressed the issue whether proximate cause is required for the separate illegal drug defense added in 1992. Additionally, we have researched the workers' compensation statutes of other jurisdictions; none of them has established an illegal drug defense referencing the Department of Transportation (DOT) drug test.

The court's fundamental duty in interpreting a statute is to determine the legislative intent by examining...

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8 cases
  • City of Guntersville v. Bishop
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Civil Appeals
    • May 2, 1997
    ...Inc. v. Hinton, 378 So.2d 235, 237 (Ala.Civ.App.), cert. den., 378 So.2d 239 (Ala.1979)." 728 So.2d 608 Ross v. Ellard Const. Co., 686 So.2d 1190, 1192 Section 25-5-77(a) states, in pertinent part: "In addition to the compensation provided in this article and Article 4 of this chapter, the ......
  • Willey v. Williamson Produce, COA01-226.
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • March 5, 2002
    ...or impaired or that his intoxication or impairment was not a contributing cause of the accident. See Ross v. Ellard Constr. Co., Inc., 686 So.2d 1190, 1192-93 (Ala.Civ.App.1996) (statute provides that employee who tests positive for drug use is conclusively presumed to have been under the i......
  • Weaver v. Kimberly-Clark Corp.
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Civil Appeals
    • November 30, 2001 concerns regarding the ability of companies to operate profitably under the previous statutory scheme." Ross v. Ellard Constr. Co., 686 So.2d 1190, 1193 The adoption of a rule by which a former complying employer falls within the exclusivity provision of §§ 25-5-52 and -53 of the Workers......
  • Ex parte Winn-Dixie Montgomery, Inc.
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Civil Appeals
    • January 31, 2003
    ...Tennis Courts, Inc. v. Hinton, 378 So.2d 235, 237 (Ala. Civ.App.), cert. den., 378 So.2d 239 (Ala. 1979)." Ross v. Ellard Constr. Co., 686 So.2d 1190, 1192 (Ala.Civ.App.1996). Section 25-5-292(a), Ala.Code 1975, provides, in part: "A settlement reached hereunder shall, unless otherwise prov......
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