Reflection 96

Although many of you have come a long way and represent jurisdictions far removed from each other, we are all part of one great community, engaged in one related enterprise, that of the softening the lot of those who are injured in the common pursuits of labor and industry. When a worker is injured and laid off and his earnings cease, your ministrations provide medical and hospital care and attention, and furnish that which is necessary to enable him to carry on until he is able to resume work. When he is killed, his widow and orphaned children are provided for so that they may live as useful and respectable citizens and without appeal to charity. Without our compensation statutes and your timely administration of their beneficent provisions the lot of labor would be a sad one indeed.

-Mr. Albert G. Mathews, Commissioner, Workmen’s Compensation Department, West Virginia, and IAIABC President. From the proceedings of the 1938 IAIABC Convention.

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Reflection 95

When I served as Commissioner of the West Virginia Workers’ Compensation Fund, I spoke to many groups:  unions, injured workers, employers’ associations, and local and state-wide organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Clubs.  Injury rates were high and workers’ compensation was expensive, particularly in the mining industry.   Employers were universally resentful of the cost – although they rarely connected cost to injury rates.  Many felt that employees were often inappropriately approved for benefits.   In contrast, injured workers and union members believed strongly that deserving injured workers routinely did not receive benefits.

There is always some truth on all sides of these debates.  But  it is important to remember that employers get significant value for the cost of workers’ compensation.

First, of course, they receive immunity from tort actions:  Workers’ compensation benefits are the exclusive remedy for injured workers against their employers.  Given the growth in tort litigation over the last century, the breadth of this protection is of extraordinary value.  In most states, there are no meaningful exceptions to the rule.  Workers who are hurt through gross negligence by their employers are treated in exactly the same way as workers who are injured as a result of their own inattention.  This is an essential element of basic workers’ compensation principles.   The other critical element of these principles is that no-fault workers’ compensation systems are supposed to provide adequate medical and indemnity benefits to all workers injured at work.  Yet employers’ groups lobby unremittingly for more restrictive compensability rules and lower benefits in order to reduce their costs – while they  themselves maintain exactly the same level of protection from tort litigation.  That is, the protection to employers remains constant even when costs are reduced and adequacy for workers is undermined.

Second, employers do not have to worry, as a legal matter, about the long-term fate of their workers who are injured.  It is true, when workers’ compensation laws were passed, that there was no obligation at all to injured workers, except to those few who were successful in tort actions against their employers.  But even now, in almost every state, workers who have recovered from work injuries have no continuing legal claim to employment with their original employer.  Return to work programs that are offered by some employers are largely voluntary, motivated either by good will or cost-savings.  Many workers are abandoned or even banned once injured.

What does this mean for the future?  The arguments regarding employer cost are important.  But don’t they belong within a context in which all of us think about adequacy of benefits to injured workers?

– Emily A. Spieler, Dean, Edwin Hadley Professor of Law, Northeastern University of Law

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Reflection 94

No State can rightfully assert that it has reached perfection in workmen’s compensation administration because there is no “last word” in technique or procedure. There is room for improvement in the best, and there are none so bad as to be without some points of merit. What we want to get away from, I think, is the narrow, provincial view that our home State has some peculiar or unusual situation requiring one particular type of law and one specific method of administration. The fact is, workmen’s compensation problems in every section of the country are practically identical, the difference being one of degree rather of substance. If the officials of Maine, Georgia, Arizona, or Oregon sit down together and exchange experiences, they will find that each has the same difficulties to iron out. So, in respect to workmen’s compensation there is no sectional problem, and the more States that pool their experiences the greater the opportunity of each to draw out ideas for constructive administrative improvement.

~J. Dewey Dorsett, member of the North Carolina Industrial Commission, IAIABC President, 1935 IAIABC Annual Convention, September 30-October 3, Asheville, North Carolina.

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Reflection 93

The world has grown smaller. Within twenty-four hours we can reach any part of this country of ours. Anything of public interest that happens in any civilized country is known in every newspaper office nearly as soon as it happens. Mechanical inventions have continued to increase and scientific discoveries to be made, resulting in social, political, economic, and industrial changes. Human relations themselves have thereby been affected; human relations which are as vital a part of the problems of the boards and commissions handling workmen’s compensation as the problem of any organization in this country. No State or Nation can claim special preference in connection with this problem of workmen’s compensation. Rather, it is a problem of common concern.

We are at present living in a particularly difficult and interesting time. Perhaps it might be termed an unusual time… That which was a new problem yesterday becomes an old one tomorrow. From its solution a new theory is developed. We are finding new processes, new laws, new chemicals, and new methods of treatment to meet the economic and industrial changes… In this difficult age in which we must play our part we should ask ourselves if we are exercising that right spirit of justice which is called the workmen’s compensation law itself into being, that remedial spirit which placed the workmen’s compensation law upon the statute books.

– Ms. Emma S. Toussant, President, IAIABC, and Chairman, Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents, 1944, from the proceedings of the 1944 IAIABC Annual Convention

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Reflection 92

As we meet here in this convention and look to the future, it is important never to neglect the past. It has been said: “Not to know what has been transacted in former times, is to continue always a child.” If no use is made of the labors of past ages, the world must remain asleep in the infancy of knowledge.

Much progress has been made since the early beginning of workmen’s compensation….Our association [IAIABC] can and should play an important role in the preservation and continued development of workmen’s compensation. If strong, affirmative steps are not taken, it is probable that all our past efforts will have been largely in vain.

– A. Worley Brown, Chairman, Florida Industrial Commission 1963 (Proceedings of the IAIABC 1963 pg. 2-3)

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