“I was injured on the job and have a Constitutional right to have my medical treatment paid and wages continued while injured.” Wrong!
Workers Compensation (WC) is a creation of state legislatures – except, of course, for federal workers. It is not part of the US Constitution.
The U.S. was pretty much a late comer to protecting workers who have been injured on the job. The earliest known beginnings of WC dates back to some crude basics in Sumeria before the time of Moses. It wasn’t until 1948 that all of the states in the U.S. had WC laws.
There were times when injured employees couldn’t sue their employers. If they did sue, they would be unemployed and without income until a court award – if they won.
Employers could claim that the injured worker had been negligent and depending on local law, the employee could end up with only a portion of what he claimed or nothing. This is called “contributory negligence.”
There was also a rule called “fellow servant” meaning that an employer was not liable for an injury caused by another employee. Good luck on getting any kind of an award from another employee. Very low wages back in the day.
The last of the three big defenses for employers was called “assumption of risk.” This means that the employee knew of the risks of the job and took the job knowing those risks – thereby assuming the risk of injury.
Eventually the public would not stand for the abuses of employees in the rapidly expanding industrial age with little to no attention regarding work safety. There were huge numbers of people receiving serious injuries in factories and many deaths.
As with so many issues, the solution was a compromise. Employers would be liable for on the job injuries and deaths including medical expenses, lost wages and survivor benefits. The compromise – the trade-off was that the amount paid to the employee would not be as high as what they could get through litigation. There were times when a widow’s total benefit was approximately one month’s wages of her late husband.
Each state has a schedule of the amount of compensation for particular injuries. Each finger has a value. Legs, arms and eyes also have various values. Disfigurement is worth zero – but if you loose a little toe you get paid. Seems people would rather have one of their toes gone that be horribly disfigured.
The schedule has disability payments at particular levels for particular times. There is a death benefit schedule, medical schedule and even mileage payments for getting to and from treatment.
There are many technicalities that go along with WC and what an injured employee (or his survivors) may receive. There are issues concerning if the employee was even on the job or not. There is a “coming and going” rule which says that in most cases, if you are injured traveling to and from the job, you don’t get any benefit. There are exceptions to this.
As with so many matters in the law, there are rules upon rules, exceptions and exceptions to the exceptions. It’s best to see your attorney right away with any on the job injury. It may be routine, but then again, there are so many unknowns.
No out-of-pocket attorney fees! That’s something you don’t hear often. In WC cases, state law allows for a specified small portion of the award to be paid to the attorney for legal fees. It’s controlled by state law and that’s it. Nothing out-of-pocket or up-front for the injured client.
To schedule a free consultation with me, call my office at: 478-353-1800.