Words are interesting. Over time, words evolve, definitions change. Older terms develop to conform with contemporary times. Every year Merriam-Webster, the U.S.’s leader on language and definitions, announces new words that are now grammatically acceptable to use. Therefore, it is not surprising that our various vocabularies include some words that have fallen out of favor, some that are relatively new, and others that are strictly regional or colloquial in their use and meaning.
In addition to the constant evolution of the English language, there is the constantly shifting jargon associated with a particular industry. In the insurance industry, you might hear “workman’s comp,” “workers’ comp,” or “workers’ compensation.” Each of these refers to the same thing these days – state laws that provide benefits to employees who were hurt while on the job. However, before these protections were put into place, the only recourse an injured worker had was to sue their employer. This was expensive, time-consuming, and often futile.
When laws were enacted to protect injured workers, the workforce was dominated by males. This is one of the reasons why the laws and policies were often referred to as “workman’s compensation.” Oddly, this term was not introduced by the insurance industry – it was a term coined by the workers themselves. The term became the industry norm. In recent years, as the workforce encompassed all genders, the term “workers’ comp” became the contemporary industry standard. If you have questions about workers’ comp, call our Fayetteville workers’ comp lawyers at (479) 316-0438.
The Origins of Worker’s Restitution
Before workers’ compensation legislation was enacted in the United States, injured workers had to fight for benefits to cover their medical costs, lost income, and other reparations. To receive any compensation, the injured worker had to prove their employer was negligent. This was a costly, lengthy, and difficult legal battle.
Employers at the time could rely on a set of statutes, often called the “unholy trinity of defenses,” to deflect liability.
Contributory Negligence Defense
Under various state statutes, employers could escape liability if an employee contributed in any way to the accident or injury.
The employer’s liability could be reduced or eliminated if another employee contributed to the accident.
Assumption of Risk Defense
An injured worker’s ability to recover any damages could be significantly limited or denied if they were aware of existing dangers or hazards in the workplace. By agreeing to take the job, the employee agreed to accept the risk of injury.
These three defenses made winning any compensation an almost impossible task. Very few injured employees received settlements. The odds were not much better when an accident was fatal. On average, only about half of families received any compensation, which was usually only a year’s salary.
Workers’ Compensation Legislation Comes to the United States
In the early 1900s, social commentators and literary muckrakers began shedding light on the conditions of workers in the country. One of the most significant works that highlighted the struggles of the “common man” was Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” This literary tour de force graphically depicted the conditions faced by workers in Chicago’s slaughterhouses. While this important book failed to spark any legislation to help workers, it did ignite the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 and the Food and Drug Act of 1906. These eventually developed into today’s Food and Drug Administration.
As pressure mounted to provide some protections for workers, Congress passed the Employers’ Liability Acts of 1906 and 1908. This legislation weakened the employer’s contributory negligence defense, offering injured employers a fighting chance to obtain compensation.
Wisconsin was the first state in the union to enact a comprehensive workers’ compensation law. This law was signed in 1911. It was followed by nine other states passing similar legislation that same year. These laws have been considered the first social insurance in the country. More states conformed to the tide of change, with another thirty-six states enacting workers’ comp laws by the end of the decade. When the new year was rung in in 1921, only six states had not authorized some type of compensation for injured workers. The final state to adopt protections for workers was Mississippi, which finally did so in 1948.
Workers’ Compensation in the Modern Age
In the 1970s, Congress created the National Commission on State Workmen’s Compensation laws to determine if workers’ comp laws should be federalized. While the commission did not recommend bringing the state laws under federal oversight, it did offer nearly 20 recommendations to reform the existing state laws.
Despite the battles fought by workers across time, employers still have considerable political and economic power. Therefore, as the cost of workers’ compensation insurance continued to increase through the 1980s and into the 1990s, changes were enacted to reduce benefits. These legislative changes also gave employers tools to reduce medical costs, such as giving insurers the power to approve doctors and medical treatments. As states continue to tweak workers’ comp benefits, employees find themselves once again having to fight for the compensation they deserve. Our Arkansas workers’ compensation lawyers are here to help you navigate the current laws.
Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Offering Experience and Free Consultations
The history of workers’ compensation is fascinating. While our country has come a long way since employers held every card, injured workers are often still required to fight for the benefits they deserve. Insurance companies will challenge where an injury occurred, dictate medical treatment, and look for small errors or discrepancies to deny coverage. Our Springdale workers’ compensation lawyers are committed to fighting for the rights of injured workers. With decades of experience, our law firm is ready to tackle even the most challenging case. Call (479) 316-0438 to understand what rights you have if you have been injured on the job.