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The History of Workers compensation

Workers compensation is insurance paid by employers to workers who are injured in the course of employment. It is considered a trade-off: workers can expect immediate compensation for medical expenses, lost wages and death benefits, regardless of fault, and employers have the assurance that they will not be sued by the employee.

First states to enact Workers Compensation Laws

Workers' Compensation developed first in Europe in the 1800s, but by the early 1900s had spread to the United States, evolving from the industrial revolution. Companies were growing but so were the number of injuries. Injured workers were often forced to file injury cases against their employers and prove their employer was negligent to win damages. Workers often found personal injury cases were expensive and time-consuming, and they frequently did not receive adequate compensation for their losses.

Maryland (1902), Massachusetts (1908), Montana (1909) and New York (1910) were the first states to institute workers compensation laws, but all four state laws were eventually determined to be unconstitutional.

The Federal Laws get signed

Federal laws were eventually signed, first by President Taft in 1908 through the Federal Employers Liability Act. This law was created to protect railroad workers involved in interstate commerce. Other states established commissions to study the issues in the early 1900s and real debate began in 1911with labor unions and industry leaders discussing an agreement which could provide compensation and benefits to injured employees.

Wisconsin was the first state to institute workers compensation laws in 1911, with nine other states following the same year. By 1920 there were 42 states which adopted similar statutes. In 1948, Mississippi was the final state to implement workers compensation laws.

Changes in Occupational Coverage

Initially workers compensation did not cover all types of employment.

For example, when workers' compensation was first introduced not all employees were covered, including agricultural workers, domestic servants, some railroad workers, and some nonhazardous jobs. Employers with limited employees (3 to 5) also did not have to provide workers compensation coverage.

Over the years the cost for workers compensation has increased. Generally the increase has been caused by greater coverage for more workers and the expansion of coverage for occupational diseases, as well as persons suffering from work-related disabilities associated with psychological stress. The cost of medical coverage has also substantially increased.

Workers compensation programs are considered a necessary part of employment. Although it is one of the oldest social insurance programs, critics complain that it fails to provide employees, who may be stigmatized when injured or made ill by their job, any opportunity to seek justice through an injury claim when their economic livelihood is damaged or ruined by a job injury or illness.

Coverage is also not universal, and many workers may not be protected by workers compensation because they are considered "independent contractors." Some states, such as Texas, also allow employers to "non-subscribe," forcing some workers to sue their employer to recover damages from injury.

Proponents of the system claim that the immediate benefit of medical care and lost wage compensation, without the hassle of filing an injury claim, is beneficial for many employees.

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