Workers' Compensation Information Center
Workers' Compensation - An Overview
US employers and their employees rely on our dependable workers' compensation system to resolve disputes about vocational injuries and disease and to provide for related worker needs. Workers' compensation benefits are commonly awarded for work-related injury, illness and death, helping to meet the needs of injured workers and their families even when faced with overwhelming situations. If you or your family member is injured or becomes sick in the course of employment, an experienced and skilled workers' compensation lawyer from our firm can assess your potential workers' compensation claim.
History and Origin
The idea of workers' compensation has its origins in Germany in the early 1800s. The industrial revolution brought dangerous new workplaces into existence such as railroads, factories and mines with accompanying increases in injuries, deaths and new work-related diseases. Social and political sympathy for the common worker grew and led to the enactment of early workers' compensation legislation.
The concept soon spread to other European nations, ultimately resulting in an 1897 British law that was the impetus for the first US workers' compensation laws. Almost all US states had some type of workers' compensation system by the 1920s. The federal government followed suit for most federal employees and for certain industries.
Prior to the establishment of workers' compensation, English and American laws were inadequate to protect workers harmed in increasingly hazardous industrial jobs. Ordinary employees rarely had the financial means to bring negligence lawsuits against their employers; when they did, employers usually relied on one of three defenses, dubbed the unholy trinity, to defeat the claims. An employer usually defended such a suit by asserting that a co-employee was instead responsible, that the injured worker had contributed negligently to the accident or that the employee had assumed the risk of injury by accepting the job.
Theory and Policy
Workers' compensation provides an exclusive remedy to the employee for work-related injury and sickness without regard to fault, when the harm arises out of and in the course of employment. The worker gives up the right to sue his or her employer for the harm in return for automatic monetary recovery, usually for lost wages and medical expenses, but sometimes including other types of benefits. To its advantage, the employer no longer has to worry about defending lawsuits or about disproportionate awards.
States require that employers carry workers' compensation insurance, set aside sufficient resources to cover claims (self-insure) or contribute to state-run workers' compensation award funds. The allowable methods for employer payment vary by state.
The social and economic policy behind workers' compensation is that these employer "costs" are ultimately paid by society as a whole in the form of higher prices for goods and services. Some theorize that the cost of the program is actually covered by lower wages, but that the trade-off to workers is well worth it. Workers' compensation is also seen as an incentive to employers to develop safer workplaces.
Most states have developed exceptions to the exclusiveness of the workers' compensation remedy in extreme situations. When employers act in bad faith or intentionally or criminally harm employees, many states allow workers to bring lawsuits against their employers outside the workers' compensation system. A lawsuit against a third party may also be possible, such as against a manufacturer of faulty equipment that causes an injury. In such circumstances, the employer may be able to get reimbursement for workers' compensation benefits already paid.
If you have questions about a workers' compensation claim, a workers' compensation attorney at our firm can answer them and advise you of your legal rights.
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