A Brief History of Workers’ Compensation by Pothitakis Law

Workers’ compensation laws date back as early as 2050 B.C. The Arabs in the ancient Middle East followed the law of Ur, which detailed compensation for the loss of specific body parts. The amount of compensation was based on the length of the appendage lost. Unfortunately, the exact amounts of compensation are not recorded.


Historians have also found records from privateer or pirate ships that date a few years after that. Each body part had its own value of compensation. Generally, the compensation was more for body parts that were used more often. For example, the right arm was worth more than the left arm, and a foot worth more than an eye.


In 1881, the Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, also known as the “Iron Chancellor,” introduced “Workers’ Accident Insurance,” in the middle of the industrial revolution. This act improved workers’ comp conditions, but employers still got away with more than they should have. Due to the constant new machinery and unsafe working conditions produced during that time, many injuries were caused because of employer negligence. With Workers’ Accident Insurance, injured employees were forced to show proof that the injury was caused because of negligence on the part of the employer. Employers avoided lawsuits by defending themselves in several different ways. They would claim that if the employee knew there was a risk associated with the work task, it removed all blame from the employer. They would also say that even if there was the smallest chance that it was partly the employees fault, the employee could not receive compensation for their injury.


This all changed in 1911 when Wisconsin adopted the workers’ compensation law, saying that proof was not required for compensation. Employers had a much harder time defending themselves from charges that they were at fault. Other states rebelled at the idea until the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, in which hundreds died. There was no compensation for any of the deceased families, which spurred action from many of the other states. By the end of 1920, 42 states had adopted the act. Mississippi was the last state to adopt it in 1948.


Today, workers’ compensation is as common as it is necessary. Thousands of personal injury law firms are available to help anyone with their company-caused injury claims. Thanks to those who fought early on in the twentieth century, those injured because of employer negligence need no longer suffer alone.

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