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The History and Origins of Workers’ Compensation Law

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The History and Origins of Workers’ Compensation Law

Back in the year 1884, Germany established a set of laws that made the employer the insurer of accidents in the workplace – regardless of fault. This was the first time in history that there was a modern “workers’ compensation” system. England followed suit in the year 1897. Finally, in 1908, the United States under the leadership of President Theodore Roosevelt, enacted the Federal Employers’ Liability Act and encouraged the States to make their own workers’ compensation laws.

The California legislature enacted the “Workmen’s Compensation Insurance and Safety Act of 1917.” This was later codified in 1937 and is now the foundation and basis for California’s workers’ compensation laws. Since that time, numerous changes and revisions have come to California’s laws of workers’ compensation. SB 863 is the most recent sweeping reform at the time of this writing (Jan 1, 2015).

The California Labor Code, divison 4, defines the law for the California Workers’ Compensation system.   The law is supposed to be “liberally construed by the courts with the purpose of extending their benefits for the protection of persons injured in the couse of their employment.” LC 3202.

The purpose of California’s workers’ compensation law is rehabilitation, not to provide damages as under negligence (“personal injury”) law. The features of workers’ compensation law will be explored more fully in other blog posts, but for now this should be a good introduction to the history of the law as we see it in the United States, and specifically in the State of California.

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