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A Historic Overview Of Workers Compensation And Reasons It Came Into Existence

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Author: Jodi Ginsberg

A brief word about Workers' Compensation

In the US, Workers' Compensation is more commonly referred to as workers' comp and is a type of insurance that provides an employee with compensation and medical treatment as a result of being hurt or injured on the job. In exchange for this, the employee must relinquish their right to sue their employer for negligence. The Workers' Compensation laws in existence today stemmed from industrial societies that were more highly developed than others and involved some hard fought struggles between business owners and the trade unions.

An overview of Workers' Compensation systems

For the most part, the systems which are in place for Workers' Compensation attempt to strike compromises as well as guaranteeing an employee that they will receive medical benefits and be compensated for time lost on the job on a no-fault basis. Prior to Workers' Compensation laws being passed, the only chance for an employee to be compensated for injuries incurred on the job was to sue their employer for compensation based on negligent acts of the employer.

At the same time, these employee-originated legal actions could result in significant drawbacks for the employee. The possibility of a ruling in the employee's favor could result in extremely large and unpredictable costs to the employer. Statutory systems for Workers' Compensation provide the injured employee with compensation for lost time on the job, medical expenses, and rehab therapy in prompt fashion. Limits are also placed on the cost of this system for the injured individual's employer.

The laws before Workers' Compensation coming into existence

Prior to Workers' Compensation being legally established, the only way an employee could be compensated for a job-related injury was by virtue of pursuing civil or tort laws in the courts. Originally, in the UK, the perceived view of employment was a master-servant relationship for many decades. This forced an employee to prove that the employer was malicious or negligent, therefore resulting in their injury.

Despite the fact that the employer's liability was quite limited at this point in time, the courts typically stood on the side of the employer if the case went to litigation. Additionally, they paid very little attention to the loss of wages that employees incurred while they were injured and could not perform their jobs. It seemed insignificant to the courts that there were lost wages, medical expenses piling up, and the possibility that the employee could never work again.

Statutory compensation in the US

The history of Workers' Compensation most likely dates back to 1855 when the Alabama and Georgia state legislatures passed what were called Employer Liability Acts. Within the next 52 years, 26 other states followed suit and passed their own versions of the legislation. The basic premise of the act was the allowances of an employee to sue their employer and then prove that the latter's actions were negligent. The very first Workers' Compensation law was actually passed by the state of Maryland in 1902.

Additionally, the first law covering employees of the federal government was passed 4 years later. Most of the states had passed some type of Workers' Compensation legislation by 1949 and at that time, the entitlement was referred to as Workmans' Compensation. The change to Workers' Compensation was made because it was an alternative terminology that was gender neutral. Today in the US, any employee who is injured on the job is entitled to medical care and monetary payments.

Filing a Workers' Compensation claim

Anytime you file a Workers' Compensation claim, it is a fairly straightforward process which the injured party can handle on their own. However, there are certain filing requirements that have to be adhered to. Depending on the specific circumstances and the required documentation, the preparation of the claim can become difficult and tedious and the injured party should consider hiring the services of an experienced Workers' Compensation attorney to assist them in the process.

About the author: Jodi Ginsberg is a practicing workers' compensation attorney in Atlanta, GA. She has been practicing law for over 20 years, and her website can be found at

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