History of Workers Compensation Law Explained
History of Workers Compensation Law Explained
“When consulting with injured workers on a workers compensation case I am frequently asked “Why can’t I sue my employer and recover for the pain and suffering?” My answer typically involves a history lesson.
The Industrial Revolution
In 1712 the steam engine was invented and was the impetus for the idea that steam could be used to make machines go. In 1769 a more efficient steam engine was designed which ultimately paved the way for the first trains, steamboat and factories. Thus began the transition from an agricultural society to a manufacturing society, or the Industrial Revolution. During the Industrial Revolution machines were producing large quantities of products to be distributed to the masses.
These machines were operated by employees who were working under extreme conditions. Not only were they working long hours but the machines they were operating and the processes they were utilizing were extremely dangerous.
Working became hazardous and often caused significant debilitating injuries or death to those workers. Despite that the Industrial Revolution was a significant factor in the United States’ economic growth in manufacturing, this growth came with consequences to the workers.
Prior to the enactments of workers compensation statutes, injured workers could only recover for their work injuries, including pain and suffering, by proving that their employer was negligent. This process, which involved the filing of a lawsuit, was a long an arduous process that didn’t always guarantee a good result for the employee. In fact, it is estimated that only about 17 percent of all accidents were due to the employers’ negligence.
Those few cases where the employee was able to prove the employer was negligent the accident victim or their families received substantial payouts which posed difficulties for small businesses.
Worker’s Compensation Law Enacted
In order to safeguard the employer and employee from the uncertainty of a civil lawsuit, workers compensation laws were enacted in each of the United states beginning in 1911. Workers compensation law was a compromise between the workers and the employers and were the first instances of social insurance in the United States.
At the core of workers compensation law was the basic principal that the benefits the employees received would be provided without regard to fault and in return there would be limited financial exposure for the employer. In other words, the employee no longer had to prove that the employer was negligent in a court of law.
In return the employer agreed to pay certain benefits such as lost wages and medical treatment but did not have to pay anything for pain and suffering. Any recovery would be statutorily regulated rather than through a jury award. In return, the employee would no longer have to endure the long, drawn out, often unreliable process of having to go to trial to prove that their employer was negligent to receive an award.
The workers compensation statutes have evolved over the years but at its’ core workers compensation law is focused on the worker’s recovery and their status as an employee. The benefits provided all relate to the employee’s status as a worker.
For example, the compensation for the loss of certain body parts is based upon how that body part affects the employee’s ability to work. For instance, the loss of an arm is compensated at a greater rate than the loss of a leg, as most job functions are more reliant on the use of an arm than the use of one’s leg.This is just one example of how the workers compensation laws are at their core reliant on the employee’s status as an employee.
Ultimately the workers compensation laws are in place to ensure the workers can either return to work or if they cannot return to work are able to sustain themselves both financially and medically.
Workers Compensation Law Today
Although the workers compensation laws are necessary, they can be extremely complicated. ( See our article “What to do if you are Injured at Work” for a helpful guide of the steps you should take.) It is important to have a knowledgeable and experienced attorney on your side when dealing with a workers compensation injury to protect your rights.
In North Carolina, our law firm offers free consultations with a workers compensation lawyer and we only take a fee if you are awarded benefits through the North Carolina Industrial Commission or you settle your claim.
Do You Have A Workers Compensation Case?
Attorney Eileen Mullen can meet with you to learn about your case and help you discover what workers compensation benefits you’re entitled to.