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Jack L. CHANDLER Deceased Employee Millie M. Chandler Widow Jack L. Chandler Jr. Son and Pamela Chandler Hopkins Daughter Claimants of whom Millie M. Chandler is Appellant
vs.
SUITT CONSTRUCTION COMPANY Employer and Aetna Casualty & Surety Company Carrier Respondents.


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Issues:
Post accident testing, chain of custody.
 
Case Summary:
The survivors of a construction company employee who was killed when his vehicle hit a tree appeal a trial court's ruling which overturned a lower jurisdiction's decision to award workers' compensation benefits to the employee's wife. Jack Chandler, an employee of Suitt Construction Company, was killed when his vehicle swerved off the road and struck a tree. At the time of the accident, Chandler was on business-related errand and was returning to his company's office. A blood alcohol test was conducted posthumously - the sample drawn at the funeral home, from his chest cavity. A second test was ordered by a coroner who believed the original test sample might have been contaminated by stomach fluids. The sample was obtained from fluid in the eye and showed a .212 ethanol reading . Chandler's widow filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits, alleging that her husband's death was linked to his job. She reported that her husband had been taking an alcohol-based cold relief remedy. The employer maintained the accident was caused by intoxication. The hearing commissioner granted benefits on the grounds that the employer had not established a proper chain of evidence, nor adequately demonstrated that the decedent was intoxicated at the time of the accident.
 
Decision of lower jurisdiction:
The Circuit Court of South Carolina reversed the commission on an appeal from the employer. The court attached considerable weight to the first blood test conducted by the State Law Enforcement Division and deduced from this evidence that Chandler's intoxication caused the accident.
 
Outcome:
Chandler's survivors win. The South Carolina Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision after considering the testimony of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) driver who detected no alcoholic odor at the time of his examination. Moreover, the court reasoned that the Chandler's illness or drowsiness related to his cold may have been a contributing factor. Thus, the employer's claim was not proven.