Employees who were injured due to their employers’ negligence sued the employers under traditional negligence or personal injury law.
One of the original rationales for workers’ compensation laws was to protect employers from the drastic effects of failing to provide safe work environments.
Under that system, if the employer was found negligent, the employee could recover not only medical expenses and lost wages, but also such damages as pain and suffering. The parties had a right to a jury trial and the awards in particularly egregious cases could be quite high against the employer. As the industrial revolution created larger and larger workplaces and the possibility of many more worker injuries, employers often became embattled defending against multiple workers’ personal injury claims.
Thus, workers’ compensation systems, which are generally considered no fault, were instituted, giving employees a trade-off of guaranteed and purportedly quicker, establishment of benefits, without concern for their own contributory negligence. The employers, on the other hand, gained immensely in that they no longer had to defend against numerous lawsuits since they were granted virtual immunity from lawsuits for their negligence. A determination as to whether the employer’s or the employee’s negligent behavior caused the problem is irrelevant. Some, who find workers’ compensation an uneven trade-off between employer and employee, argue that, under most state workers’ compensation systems, employers often do not have to worry about the cost of possible consequential injuries, even in cases where they are more than merely negligent. However, under certain circumstances in most states, there are injuries for which the employee may either sue the employer or a third party, as in the case of injuries resulting from faulty or defective equipment.