August 2010
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Workers' compensation timeline

Workers' compensation timeline

The concept of protection and insurance involving labor and business has been around for thousands of years.

Around 3000 B.C. in China, merchants would divide their cargo into several ships to protect their investments. An ancient Sumerian law from 2050 B.C.—the law of Ur-Nammu—provided monetary compensation for specific injuries to workers' body parts. In 1750 B.C., the Babylonians created a system that allowed merchants to borrow money to finance their shipments of goods. The Romans reportedly developed life and health insurance through guilds or clubs around 600 A.D.

Although workers' compensation's roots may lie in these ancient practices, workers' compensation has come a long way. Following is a timeline from the Florida Department of Financial Services tracking workers' compensation's evolution throughout history.

Early 18th century: Under the "respondeat superior" doctrine of Old English law, a master was liable for damages to a third person caused by a servant's act or omission while the servant was acting within the scope of employment. Unless workers were injured by another worker, not many workers were protected by the doctrine.

1838: Germany passed legislation protecting railroad employees and passengers in case of an accident. This was followed by a law in 1854 that required certain employers to contribute to sickness funds; passage of a Voluntary Insurance Act in 1876 that failed when implemented; and a Compulsory Plan in 1881 that was finalized in 1884 and serves as a model for the present system.

1880: The English Parliament passed the Employer's Liability Act; under English Common Law, the only option for injured workers was to sue their employers, with the burden of proof on the employee. And in a post-Industrial Revolution world, workplace injuries were more common because many people took manufacturing jobs and worked in factories with heavy machinery and dangerous conditions.

1897: England repealed the Employer's Liability Act and replaced it with a workman's compensation act, which stated injured employees only have to show they had been injured on the job.

1908: The Federal Employer's Liability Act was the first workman's compensation law passed in the U.S., covering certain federal government employees with hazardous occupations and employees of common carriers engaged in interstate and foreign commerce.

1911: Wisconsin was the first state to adopt a comprehensive workman's compensation law. Through the legislation, employers agreed to provide medical and indemnity benefits and injured employees agreed to give up their right to sue their employers. Ten more states adopted workman's compensation laws that year, followed by four more states in 1912 and eight more states in 1913.

1948: All states had some form of workman's compensation law.

1979: Workman's compensation becomes workers' compensation.


This Web exclusive information is a supplement to How many do you employ?.

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