Court Awards $26K to Car Crash Survivor for Covering Her Medical Cannabis Costs
The ruling represents a win for expanding medical cannabis coverage in insurance filings and worker’s comp claims.
Published on August 18, 2021

A British Columbia court has awarded a car crash victim $26,267 to cover her medical cannabis costs, reports Stratcann. The decision represents a major win for medical cannabis advocates. It’s not everywhere that you can be compensated for the weed you need to recuperate from injuries, though in many places lawmakers are looking to change that fact.

Though in the US, 36 states have some form of legal medicinal marijuana, there’s no given that its use will be covered by certain insurance claims. In many states like California, medical cannabis may be covered by health insurance, but is regularly excluded from other plans, like worker’s compensation coverage. 

In 2020, Massachusetts’ Supreme Court decided that worker’s comp for cannabis patients was out of the question, stating that, “the current legal landscape of medical marijuana law may, at best, be described as a hazy thicket.” In fact, Massachusetts’ medical marijuana act bars any health insurance providers from being ordered to reimburse medical cannabis claims.

The car crash survivor in the British Columbia case, Melanie Lavoie, was reportedly using $1,095 in Canadian dollars worth of cannabis oil to deal with the health consequences of a 2015 accident. The judge ruled that the defendants could not challenge her use of medicinal cannabis in her treatment, even though some doctors had suggested she might try a prescription medication called Cymbalta. Cymbalta is an antidepressant that can also treat certain forms of neuropathic pain. However, like most antidepressants, Cymbalta can present serious side effects, such as major withdrawal symptoms, anxiety, panic attacks, aggression, depression, or suicidal thoughts.

In the end, the patient was awarded a total of $1,143,635 for past and future wage losses and to cover her medical treatment.

According to a court document, the judge stated:

...even if Cymbalta and medical cannabis were of equal cost (and I find on the evidence that they are not) and it was a matter of choosing one of the two drugs to spend her funds on, I would consider it reasonable for her to choose medical cannabis in the circumstances. Having limited funds, she would be choosing between a drug she knew was of some assistance (medical cannabis) and a drug that was unlikely to assist (Cymbalta) given her past response to similar medications. That is a sensible investment.

Though rare, similar rulings have precedents in the United States, too, where cannabis remains outlawed at the federal level. In April, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that a construction company had to pay for its former employee’s medical marijuana after he sustained injuries from a truck dumping cement on him. In that state, lawmakers have proposed bills that would require worker’s comp, car insurance, and several state health plans cover the costs of medical marijuana treatment. 

That worker’s comp covers cannabis treatment only seems fair, given recent findings that legalizing weed can help reduce the number of total claims. The National Bureau of Economic Research published a working paper earlier this year that found  employees aged 40-62 filed fewer worker’s compensation claims in states with regulated access to recreational cannabis. The study suggested that workers may use cannabis to manage job-related pain for which they might otherwise file a claim. 

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Caitlin Donohue
Caitlin Donohue is a Bay Area-raised, Mexico City-based cannabis writer and author of She Represents: 44 Women Who Are Changing Politics and the World. Her weekly show Crónica on Radio Nopal explores Mexican marijuana culture and politics in the prohibition era. Follow Caitlin on IG @byrdwatch.
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