Delaware Court Upholds Denial Of Workers’ Compensation Benefits For Medical Marijuana Costs

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The compensability of medical marijuana costs for a workers’ compensation claim turns on an individualized inquiry of whether such treatment is reasonable and necessary, and not whether the use of medical marijuana is permissible under state law, according to the Delaware Superior Court.  Nobles-Roark v. Back Burner, Case No. N19A-11-001 ALR (Del. Superior Ct. July 28, 2020).  The court ruled in this case that the Industrial Accident Board (“IAB”) did not err by denying an employee’s claim for medical marijuana costs despite lawfully obtaining medical marijuana under state law.

The employee sustained a back injury at work and received various treatments for pain management, including medical marijuana. The employee then filed a petition for additional workers’ compensation benefits for expenses he paid for medical marijuana treatment. Under the Delaware workers’ compensation law, expenses for medical treatments are compensable if the medical treatment is “reasonable and necessary.”

At the IAB hearing, both the employer and employee presented medical expert testimony. The employer’s expert testified that the employee was not a good candidate for medical marijuana treatment due to unrelated health conditions. The IAB found the employer’s expert more credible and denied the employee’s claim. The employee appealed, arguing the IAB’s decision was inconsistent with the findings in the Delaware Medical Marijuana Act that marijuana has therapeutic value and that the IAB improperly accepted the employer’s expert testimony.

The court rejected the employee’s arguments. The court explained that the issue was not whether the employee may use medical marijuana, but whether he would have to pay for it himself.  Whether a medical treatment is “reasonable and necessary” under the Workers’ Compensation Law must be considered on an individual basis. Therefore, the state’s acknowledgement that medical marijuana is effective for treating some patients does not mandate a finding that it is effective for all patients. The court also concluded the IAB acted within its discretion by making credibility determinations to resolve the experts’ inconsistent conclusions.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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