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A century of workers' compensation

The evolution of workers' compensation in the U.S. began in earnest about 100 years ago when it became apparent something needed to be done to help workers who suffered workplace injuries.

Initial attempts to define and broaden workers' compensation legislation were hindered by conflicting business, union and industry interests that diluted employees' opportunities to make injury claims against employers. Maryland initially attempted to create a workers' compensation system in 1902, but the Maryland law was struck down as unconstitutional.

In early workplace injury cases, employees had to prove employer negligence in court. Beyond that, claimants were required to confirm that injuries were neither self-inflicted nor the result of errors made by a "fellow servant" or co-worker. Workers in perilous jobs were additionally expected to assume a duty of care, a "they knew what they were getting into" type of obligation that absolved employers of responsibility. This proved to be an overwhelming burden for injured employees and victims of workplace injuries seldom received just compensation.

Within the first decade of the last century, the recognition of the value of workers propelled both state and federal governments to enact more equitable workers' compensation laws. By 1921, all but a handful of states had some program to help employees injured on the job.

Under state workers' compensation laws today, employee workplace injuries are addressed much more quickly. However, cash benefits, including death benefits, and compensated medical care have legal limits.

Although it is much easier for an injured worker to receive compensation today than it was in 1911, the workers' compensation process can be daunting and there is still room for improvement in how claims are handled. If you have questions about a workers' compensation claim, an experienced workers' compensation attorney can help.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Happy 100th Birthday Workers' Compensation: The Great Tradeoff!," Christopher Boggs, 3/23/2011

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