There are a lot of great things we’ve inherited from Europe. From English Common Law to music, to architecture, and more. Another important inheritance from across the pond is the concept of workers’ compensation. Today, people injured on the job have many more protections than workers did in the early 1900s. For many people, an injury on the job can mean a loss of income and even a long-term disability. An employee might often be confused about their very rights as a worker and be a little confused with a personal injury claim and workers comp. So let’s take a minute and analyze the difference.
The Origins of Workers Compensation Insurance
Workers Compensation (or sometimes Workers Comp for short) first started in Europe. Before this idea traveled across the Atlantic to the United States, workers that were hurt on the job had to fight for compensation for lost wages, medical expenses, and other expenses. At that time, employers had what was often referred to as an ‘unholy trinity of defenses.’ These defenses made it very difficult for workers to gain any kind of compensation for their injuries. The defenses read as follows:
- There was the contributory negligence defense which stated that if employees were even remotely or indirectly connected to the accident, they too shared the blame and thus contributed to the cause of the accident.
- Then there was the fellow-servant defense and this could reduce or even remove the employer’s liability if another employee played a role in the accident.
- There was also the assumption of risk defense. The employee could not receive damages since he or she knew of the hazards in the workplace by the fact that they agreed to work there.
As you can see, overcoming these defenses was quite difficult as it made seeking recompense a very uphill battle. Many historians point to Germany as the main origin of the Workers Compensation laws in the United States. Otto Von Bismarck, the beloved statesman and first Chancellor of Germany, passed the Sickness and Accident Laws.
He helped form the Worker’s Accident Insurance of 1884. These were the first laws similar to what we know as workers’ compensation today.
Then there were the Employer’s Liability Laws of 1871 which stated that there was the protection of factory workers in certain contexts.
While these laws needed a lot of refining, the concept of establishing protections for the common worker and bodily injury was a step in the right direction. For those fans of literature out there, much of Franz Kafka’s work was inspired by his time processing claims at the Prussian worker’s compensation board. If you’ve read the work, you might remember the dry and monotonous tone that he adopts to convey the often mind-numbing work of modern desk jobs.
As the 20th century and the Industrial Revolution blossomed in America, the concerns about worker safety skyrocketed. The struggles of the working man became very much romanticized and popularized through various works of literature. Public pressure increased and Congress began working towards legislation to safeguard worker safety. In 1911, the first Worker Compensation law was passed in the State of Wisconsin. These laws are regulated by the state and every state is a little different in terms of their statute of limitations, regulations, and requirements. Only two years later, 25,000 employees were killed in work-related accidents, so these laws came right in the nick of time.
Today’s workers are much more protected, of course. In the 1970s, Congress reviewed whether Workers Comp should be under the jurisdiction of the federal government. That was rejected and it remained in the states, but many reforms were made to the laws.
So What Do I Do After Suffering A Worker’s Compensation Injury?
People often think that filing a Workers Comp claim is their only option. There are other options out there. Let’s explore some of the differences.
Keep the Statute in Mind
The laws of Workers Comp do have statutes that limit the claim. In many cases, injured workers can only collect a portion of their lost wages and medical expenses directly related to that injury. Some states will have caps on the amount a person can receive for one injury.
Make Sure You are Eligible
The eligibility requirements for Workers Compensation benefits can be a little tricky at times. There are several instances in which you will not be eligible for compensation and these include:
- If you are an independent contractor
- Your employer does not have or is exempt from Workers Comp
- Your employer opted out of the program
If you are eligible for Workers Compensation then you cannot file a Personal injury claim at the same time against your employer. You may, however, file a personal injury claim against another involved party, if applicable.
Workers Compensation and personal injury are functioning under two very different sets of laws and systems. So they are very different types of claims.
An experienced personal injury lawyer that takes Workers Comp cases can help you decide what the best option is for you. It all depends on your particular case, your circumstance, your injury, and your employer. Call Quiñonez Law and let us help you get the compensation you need to get back to work and your life.