What is the purpose of workers' compensation law?

Workers' compensation is a form of insurance coverage that is designed to protect the working person in the event of injury. In a workers' compensation claim the parties involved are the injured worker, his or her employer, and the employer's workers' compensation insurance company. Before the passage of work­ers' compensation laws, a worker who was injured on the job was forced to file suit against his or her employer and potentially wait for months or even years before ever receiving any compensation for an injury.

As a result, the worker and his or her family may have had no income for an extended period of time because the worker was injured and unable to work. Further, the worker often was unable to pay for medical treatment. If the worker did eventually recover from the employer in a civil action, that award of money damages frequently came too late for the worker since by that point he or she was destitute and perhaps permanently impaired because of the lack of proper medical treatment.

As such, many states began passing workers' compensation laws that provided a type of compromise. Under these laws, the worker did not have to prove any fault on the part of the employer when injured, but simply had to prove that he or she was on the job and that the injury arose out of his or her employment. If those two things could be proven, then the worker was entitled to receive a portion of his or her wages for the period of time dis­abled and further was entitled to appropriate medical treatment related to that injury.

In return for that, the employer received immunity from a civil claim brought by the employee for the injury. That is. the employee could not file a civil action against the employer. The employee's exclusive remedy is the worker's compensation benefits.

Every state has its own workers' compensation law and that law can vary dramatically from state to state. The general thrust, however, of the worker's compensation system nationwide is as stated.

In addition, there are workers' compensation acts that operate at the federal level. Individuals employed by the federal government are covered by the Federal Employees Compensation Act. It is a workers' compensation act that is admin­istered by the U.S. Department of Labor. There is also another federal statute known as the Longshoremen and Harbor Worker's Act, which technically covers longshoreman and harbor workers but includes private, non-federal employees who are working on defense installations as well. It also covers private employees working overseas who are covered by the Defense Base Act -- a type of workers' compensation act that incorporates the Longshoremen and Harbor Workers Act.

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