Workplace accidents and injuries are not a new phenomenon. Since the dawn of the industrial age, workers have suffered from work-related injuries, illnesses, and even death. However, until the early 20th century, American workers and their families had little to no recourse if they or a loved one was injured or killed on the job.
Connecticut was no exception. It was not until 1913 that workers’ compensation, commonly referred to as workers’ comp, was first implemented in the state thanks to the passage of the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Act.
Prior to 1913, if a worker in Connecticut was injured or killed while on the job, they and their loved ones were responsible for covering the cost of any necessary medical care – or funeral expenses. The employee received nothing to make up for any wages lost due to a workplace injury. And, much like the physical consequences of the injury, the financial burden also fell fully on the worker – not the employer.
Workers’ comp history in the United States
When America was founded, its economy was mainly agrarian. Initially a nation of farmers, the economy shifted as a result of the Industrial Revolution, which occurred in two phases. The first phase of the Industrial Revolution began in America in the late 18th century and lasted through the first half of the 19th century. During this period, the economy expanded from mainly manual and farm labor to include machinery and factory labor, as British methods of textile manufacturing were introduced. Inventions such as Eli Whitney’s mechanical cotton gin also contributed significantly to America’s industrial growth, while demand for the nation’s resources helped fuel the construction of canals and railroads to transport materials.
As America began to rely more heavily on machinery, and on workers to operate and interact with that machinery, workplace injuries became increasingly common. Injuries could be catastrophic and included the loss of fingers, hands, limbs, and even life. For employers, these injuries were simply part of the cost of doing business. They did not consider it worth the financial investment to develop, implement and enforce safety measures that would, in all likelihood, reduce productivity. Replacing injured or deceased employees with new ones was more cost-effective in their view.
By the mid-19th century, however, socialist reformers began advancing the idea of a government-based program of compensation for industrial accident victims. These reforms were already gaining momentum in Europe. In 1884 Germany enacted a workmen’s compensation system, and England followed with a similar arrangement 13 years later.
In the United States, the second phase of the Industrial Revolution, sometimes referred to as the Technological Revolution, occurred after the Civil War and lasted into the early 20th century. Advancements in manufacturing and production technology increased the need for skilled and unskilled workers to operate machinery and helped fuel the rapid expansion of telegraph systems and railroads. Demand for increased productivity in factories, along with the inherently dangerous work of building and operating the nation’s telegraph and railroad systems, put workers in even more danger.
The need – and demand – for workers’ compensation programs was growing, and various states and the federal government attempted to implement such programs but to no avail. The courts, including a majority of justices on the Supreme Court who fully embraced the concept of a free-market economy, sided with businesses, ruling that such programs and any attempts at regulation were unconstitutional. For example, in its 1905 decision in Lochner v. New York, the Court ruled against the government’s ability to regulate an individual’s working hours. The Court held that it was part of the worker’s liberty interests to contract to work as many hours in a day as he desired.
Even President Theodore Roosevelt’s initial reform efforts were struck down, including the Federal Employers Liability Act of 1906. The Act, which would have enacted an industrial accident program for railroad workers, was found unconstitutional. The opinion of the Supreme Court eventually shifted to accept the idea that some level of government regulation was appropriate, and ultimately the Federal Employers Liability Act of 1908 survived judicial review.
Workers’ comp in Connecticut
With the passage of the Federal Employers Liability Act of 1908, the judicial tide was finally beginning to turn, somewhat, in favor of the worker and government regulations. States such as Connecticut began to enact workmen’s compensation programs.
The Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Act was originally called the Connecticut Workmen’s Compensation Act. Its passage in 1913 signaled the dawn of a new era in the way workplace injuries were viewed. Until then, Connecticut law heavily favored employers, and workers who were injured or killed in the course of their employment were considered responsible for their own fate. The employer bore no responsibility regardless of the circumstances under which the injury or death occurred.
In fact, before the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Act became law, an injured employee who filed suit against an employer faced nearly insurmountable odds. Employers could claim that contributory negligence was a factor – stating, in other words, that that the injury was the result of the employee’s own actions. Employers could also place the blame on negligent actions of the injured employee’s coworkers, or claim that the injured employee had knowingly and willingly taken on the risk of injury when he accepted the job. With the law on their side, employers were rarely held accountable for their role in workplace injuries.
The Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Act leveled the playing field significantly by granting benefits to an injured employee regardless of fault or negligence by the employee or employer. The Act guarantees medical care, protection against lost wages, and survivor benefits for employees who suffer a work-related injury, illness or death.
The risk of workplace injuries and illnesses continues. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017 private employers in Connecticut reported 37,600 nonfatal work-related injuries and illnesses, with an additional 8,900 workplace injuries and illnesses reported by public employers in Connecticut.
Currently, Connecticut workers’ compensation laws protect employees and employers from liability and offer a range of benefits such as medical care, temporary total disability, temporary partial disability, permanent partial disability, discretionary benefits, and vocational rehabilitation. Eligibility for benefits depends on the specific circumstances of your case.
Contact an experienced Connecticut workers’ compensation law firm
If you or a loved one has suffered a workplace injury or illness, you need the guidance of a skilled Connecticut workers’ comp lawyer. Our knowledgeable workers’ comp attorneys can help. If you have questions about your workers’ comp claim, or if your workers’ comp claim has been denied, contact us today or call us at (203) 255-7777 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.