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Why is it different to be hurt at work rather than somewhere else?

If you were to take a serious fall after a local store neglected to clean up a spill, you might file a slip-and-fall accident claim in order to get compensation for your medical bills and other losses. If a drowsy driver slammed into your car, you could sue that driver and his or her insurance company. If you're hurt at work, though, do you have to sue your boss?

No. In fact, except in limited circumstances, you aren't even allowed to sue your boss over a workplace injury. That's probably for the best. After all, you don't want to strain your relationship with your boss.

It didn't used to be that way. Historically, the need for a workers' compensation system came about as more and more people began to move into cities and work for wages, rather than farming. In the 1880s, when people got seriously hurt at work, they had little choice but to sue negligent employers for compensation or become disabled and destitute.

That system wasn't working. When injured workers did file lawsuits, they often couldn't meet the high standards of proof required at that time. When they could, they often won pain and suffering awards so spectacularly high that they bankrupted the employer. One way or another, someone was going to end up in financial ruin. 

Pennsylvania among the first to create a no-fault workers' compensation system

As our article about the history of workers' comp in Pennsylvania explains, our state's Workers' Compensation Act was the first law of its kind in the U.S., and among the first anywhere in the world. The law created a new model: 

  • All employers would be required to participate in the workers' compensation system.
  • Any employee injured while performing ordinary job duties would be compensated regardless of fault -- it would be legally irrelevant whether the employer or the worker had been negligent.
  • Employers would be immune from employees' injury lawsuits and protected from ruinous damage awards.

The no-fault workers' comp system was a vast improvement, but it didn't end all litigation over workplace injuries. Workers' comp insurers sometimes still deny, delay or lowball employees' injury claims, legitimate or not. This is why, although you can file a workers' comp claim on your own, you may want to consider getting help from an attorney.

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