ANNAPOLIS – A Virginia truck driver who tested positive for cocaine after crashing his rig on a Maryland highway will be allowed to file for Maryland worker’s compensation.
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals on Tuesday ordered the Maryland Worker’s Compensation Commission to hear Dallas Jones’ request for disability benefits from the crash.
The commission had originally refused to hear Jones’ claim, noting that he had also filed a claim in Virginia — where the law makes it much harder for an injured worker to collect benefits if he was intoxicated when injured.
The appeals court ruling comes as Maryland lawmakers are pushing to change the law to make it easier to deny benefits to intoxicated workers here.
“The case of Mr. Jones … demonstrates the weakness of Maryland’s current intoxication statute,” said Robert Sinton, an attorney for Victory Van Corp., which employed Jones.
Sinton said that proving Jones’ ineligibility for benefits under the Maryland law will be “a very onerous burden.” In Maryland, benefits can currently be denied only if the employer proves that intoxication was the “sole” reason for the accident.
Virginia denies compensation to any employee injured while intoxicated, whether it was the sole reason of the accident or not.
Sinton said that the combination of the Maryland compensation law’s ambiguity and the Virginia law’s rigidity “creates an atmosphere conducive to filing these types of claims.”
Jones is a Virginia resident who was employed by Victory Van Corp. of Alexandria, Va., on Oct. 16, 1994, when the accident occurred. He was driving from Massachusetts to Annapolis when he said he fell asleep about 8 a.m. on U.S Route 301 and ran off the road near Centreville, Md.
Jones, who was partially ejected from his cab, sustaining back and neck injuries that required hospitalization. Hospital blood tests showed only that he tested “positive for cocaine,” but the record does not indicate how much cocaine was found in his system.
Jones denied he had ever used cocaine. In court documents, however, he said a co-worker who used cocaine had borrowed his pipe. Jones said that is how he believed traces of the drug got into his system.
The issue of intoxication was never debated by the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission, which refused to hear the case because it said Virginia had jurisdiction. A Queen Anne’s County Circuit judge upheld that ruling.
But a three-judge panel of the Court of Special Appeals rejected that argument.
“We are not persuaded that, because coverage might be denied to [Jones] in Virginia, he cannot apply for benefits in Maryland. Jurisdiction does not turn on the merits of the case,” said the decision, written by Chief Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr.
The court also confirmed that the Maryland workers’ compensation law covers employees who are simply “driving through” the state.
It sent the case back to the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission, which has yet to review substantive details of Jones’s case.
Jones’ attorneys could not be reached for comment Tuesday.