In the late ’90s, laws that targeted workplace drug use were passed at a frantic pace. As part of this legislative assault, Congress enacted a series of federal regulations that specifically apply to the maritime industry. The new regs were aimed at reducing the use of intoxicants by mariners and promoting a drug-free and safe work environment onboard vessels.
Marine employers must now comply with a myriad of rules that require pre-employment drug screening and random drug tests of most vessel personnel. Coast Guard regulations also require drug and alcohol testing of vessel crewmembers who are involved in serious marine incidents.
From a liability standpoint, positive results from a drug or alcohol test can hurt and help. In the case of a marine casualty involving a third party, a positive result from crewmember’s alcohol or drug test can be disastrous to an employer’s defense. Certain presumptions of fault may apply when a vessel crewman violates a safety regulation that results in injury or damage to a third party. A mariner’s positive drug and/or alcohol test can carry great weight for the injured third party if a lawsuit is filed. It can result in enhanced damage awards or even civil and criminal penalties.
If a vessel crewmember has an on-the-job accident and files a claim against his employer, a positive test can go a long way toward a successful defense. A post-accident drug or alcohol test that comes up positive will often hurt a claimant’s credibility and can sometimes help beat a fraudulent claim outright.
To get the most yardage out of the evidence, it is critical to preserve all records related to the testing protocol and the data reflecting the test results. A break in the “chain of custody” of these records can render favorable results useless.
A positive drug or alcohol test on its own will not always make or break a case, and getting the maximum value out of a positive test result can be tricky. However, with an arsenal of complete and reliable records combined with the testimony of a competent expert, drug and alcohol tests can prove to be a formidable tool in pursuing third-party claims or defending employee claims.