Workmen's Compensation: Prevention, Insurance, and Rehabilitation of Occupational Disability

By Herman Miles Somers | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
The Emergence of Workmen's Compensation

Workmen's compensation was not invented; it evolved. It developed out of a series of social adjustments to meet a social need. The history of United States laws dealing with the compensation of injured workmen may be divided into three major periods: (1) the pre-compensation period when the worker's only recourse was to a personal injury damage suit under the common law, later modified by employers' liability statutes; (2) the period of popular rejection of the common law and its statutory modifications, and the struggle for nation-wide enactment of compensation legislation; (3) the period of widespread legislative action and the institutionalization of workmen's compensation.

The central problem at issue throughout this long period has been: How should the economic losses sustained by workers through occupational injuries or death be distributed? The physical costs and the personal agony must, of course, be borne by the injured workers, but the expense of providing for such workers and their dependents can be met in any way that society chooses. Such social decisions are of slow development and ever changing.


Before Workmen's Compensation

The Common Law of Employers' Liability

Before workmen's compensation the worker's right to obtain indemnity for industrial injury and wage loss depended upon his bringing a case to court and winning it. Injured workers often failed to bring their cases into court, for when they did, the odds were heavily against their success in an otherwise costly venture. Furthermore, only the injured worker himself had any legal claim. If he died, survivors and dependents had no basis for legal action.

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