WORKERS COMPENSATION LAW SUMMARY
Workers' Compensation is a form of insurance providing wage replacement and medical benefits to employees injured in the course of employment in exchange for mandatory relinquishment of the employee's right to sue his or her employer for the tort of negligence. The tradeoff between assured, limited coverage and lack of recourse outside the worker compensation system is known as "the compensation bargain".
While plans differ among jurisdictions, provision can be made for weekly payments in place of wages (functioning in this case as a form of disability insurance), compensation for economic loss (past and future), reimbursement or payment of medical and like expenses (functioning in this case as a form of health insurance), and benefits payable to the dependents of workers killed during employment (functioning in this case as a form of life insurance).
General damage for pain and suffering, and punitive damages for employer negligence, are generally not available in workers' compensation plans, and negligence is generally not an issue in the case. These laws were first enacted in Europe and Oceania, with the United States following shortly thereafter.
Common law imposes obligations on employers to: provide a safe workplace; provide safe tools; give warnings of dangers; provide adequate co-worker assistance (fit, trained, suitable "fellow servants") so worker is not overburdened; promulgate and enforce safe work rules.
Claims under the common law for worker injury are limited by three defenses afforded employers:
- Fellow Servant Doctrine: An employer can be held harmless to the extent that injury was caused in whole or in part by a peer of the injured worker
- Contributory Negligence: An employer can be held harmless to the extent that the injured employee failed to use adequate precautions required by ordinary prudence
- Assumption of Risk: An employer can be held harmless to the extent that the injured employee had voluntarily accepted the risks associated with the work.
Statutory compensation law
Workers' compensation statutes are intended to eliminate the need for litigation (and the limitations of common law remedies) by having employees give up the potential for pain- and suffering-related awards in exchange for not being required to prove tort (legal fault) on the part of their employer. The laws are designed to ensure that employees who are injured or disabled on the job are not required to cover medical bills related to their on-the-job injury, and are provided with monetary awards to cover loss of wages directly related to the accident, as well as to compensate for permanent physical impairments.
These laws also provide benefits for dependents of those workers who are killed because of work-related accidents or illnesses. Some laws also protect employers and fellow workers by limiting the amount an injured employee can recover from an employer and by eliminating the liability of co-workers in most accidents. State statutes [in the United States] establish this framework for most employment. Federal statutes [in the United States] are limited to federal employees or those workers employed in some significant aspect of interstate commerce.