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An in-depth look at workers' compensation, Part 1

Workers' compensation is a relatively recent development. It was pioneered a century ago by California as a way to bring down litigation costs for workers and employers. It was then copied in some way by ever state in the Union. Workers' compensation is now the standard system to protect and cover employee's medical expenses and lost wages while they recover from injuries sustained at work.

Before workers' compensation, people who were injured while working had two options. First, they could try to negotiate a settlement with their employer. Or, if their employer refused to give money for their injuries, they could file a lawsuit. Unfortunately, in the 1800s, thousands of workers were seriously injured or killed every year. The result was clogged courts and workers who could go years without seeing a dime and employers who spent tremendous sums on legal defense.

Additionally, workers may recover, even if they had a valid claim. A tort theory is known as "contributory negligence" was the primary legal doctrine for works which were injured on the job. Contributory negligence prevented the victim from recovering any compensation if it is established that the victim contributed, even a small bit, to their injury.

To address this harsh result, the state began experimenting with "no fault" insurance plans. These systems awarded compensation if the worker could prove that he was injured while working and on the premises of the employer. If established, the worker would be entitled to compensation, and the employer would immediately pay out benefits. In exchange, the employee agreed to waive any right to sue the employer in court. Furthermore, the employer only paid monies sufficient to cover medical bills and replace lost wages. The result is that everyone saves money, workers get compensation faster, and employers don't need to spend large sums on legal defense teams.

As illustrated above, workers' compensation was conceived as a system to bring down costs for everyone and ensure that workers and their families aren't impoverished if a parent is severely injured on the job. But the reality is more complicated. Insurers are under an economic incentive to deny workers' compensation benefits as often as possible, which is why you may want the assistance of an attorney. A lawyer can go over the process and paperwork with you to minimize the likelihood that your claim will be challenged.

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