Back to the Basics: The Purpose of Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Law

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It is hard to read political stories these days that mention the workers’ compensation system without hearing some negative reference or connotation. Unfortunately, some policymakers use the program as a rallying point when talking about the need to trim budgets and get rid of “wasteful” spending. With much public discussion rooted around the apparent problems with the system, it is important to be reminded of the entire purpose of workers’ compensation and the critical role it plays in ensuring a safe and fair workplace for Pennsylvania residents.

Workplace Safety & Fairness

Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law is a social insurance system intended to compensate employees who are injured due to an occupational disease or accident, which arose from and that occurred during the course of employment. When death results, the law requires employers to provide monetary awards to the deceased worker’s beneficiaries.

Before this system was in place, the age-old method of finding someone who caused or who failed to prevent an injury was the tort liability method. Tort liability requires the injured party to demonstrate that the party she wishes to be held accountable was the legal cause of the injury. This is often an uphill battle for the injured party, as it typically requires her to produce sufficient factual evidence that the party she seeks to hold responsible for her injury legally caused it.

In the course of modern industrial development, the nature of most people’s work has changed. In today’s post-industrial era, we are far from an agrarian based society. Most Americans today depend on an employer for their sustenance and labor in fast-paced and complex workplaces, be it in plants, construction sites, call centers, mills, or doctors’ offices.

These two features of modern work, namely employees’ dependency on their employers, as well as the hurried and intricate nature of modern workplaces, make it all the more difficult for an employee who has been injured on the job to provide the factual evidence necessary to prove his employer culpable under the tort liability method. An injured employee’s co-workers, possibly fearing the retaliation of a bad boss, loathe to testify in court about the cause of the employee’s injuries. Furthermore, the nature of modern work frequently made it difficult to determine the cause of an occupational injury and exactly who was ultimately to blame.

It was out of this environment that the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation system was created. Experience had proven to lawmakers that the tort liability method and similar remedies were failing to compensate employees who were injured or who died due to their employers’ fault.

A Fair Compromise

Workers’ compensation laws are legislatively enacted compromises between employers and employees. Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law requires employers to pay benefits to their employees who suffer work-related injury, disease or death. Employers are generally required to pay these benefits regardless of whether or not they were the legal cause of the harm. In return, injured workers often forfeit certain rights to sue their employers under tort liability and similar methods.

Although the workers’ compensation system is primarily intended to benefit employees, it can be viewed as a win-win for both parties. Employers benefit by receiving immunity from injured workers’ potential tort suits for a work-related injury, disease, or death. This liberates the employers from the risk of potentially having to pay large sums of money to injured workers through tort liability or other similar methods. At the same time, the system benefits employees through the provision of a swifter method of compensation for their workplace injuries than would have otherwise been available to them under tort liability—and, a more surer one, as neither they nor their families generally need to prove that the employer was the legal cause of the worker’s injury, disease or death.

The Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorneys at Solnick & Associates LLC are here to help families in the aftermath of work injuries. Contact us or call (215) 481-9979 today for a free confidential consultation.

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