Why do we have a workers’ compensation system in New York?

Workers’ compensation benefits both employers and employees by providing certainty about how work injury and illness will be handled.

At Silverman, Silverman & Seligman, P.C., in Schenectady, we exclusively represent people injured at work or who got occupational diseases in their workers’ compensation and Social Security Disability Insurance claims as well as, more rarely, third-party lawsuits. In almost all situations, workers’ compensation is the “exclusive remedy” for this kind of harm.

So why is that? Why does New York (and all other states) have a workers’ compensation system? Why can’t you just sue your employer instead?

Industrialization created vast inequity between workers and employers

The roots of workers’ compensation go back many years to the dangerous time of European industrialization in which low paid workers were often injured or killed in unsafe worksite conditions. The first workers’ compensation law was in Germany in 1884, according to the New York Practice Series – Workers’ Compensation. That law covered disability or death and paid benefits based on a portion of wages as well as medical expenses and rehabilitation services. Death benefits were paid to surviving dependents, including funeral costs.

Before workers’ compensation, poor, injured or sick workers generally did not have the money or ability to sue their employers for the harm and if they could, proving it was the employers’ fault was very hard. The employers – obviously more powerful – would assert that another employee caused it (the fellow-servant doctrine), the injured worker negligently contributed to the injury or the injured employee assumed the risk of getting injured by taking the job. Rarely would the worker be able to overcome these employer defenses.

The grand bargain

The workers’ compensation system provides a financial remedy for workers because the employers automatically cover medical costs and wage losses regardless of whose fault it was. In exchange, workers could not sue their employers, so employers could concentrate on their businesses and not have to worry about the uncertainty and costs of legal action against them.

This approach spread in Europe and to the U.S., where the same issues of early, dangerous working conditions existed at the time.

New York’s workers’ compensation statute

Courts found the first New York workers’ compensation act unconstitutional. Then, the Triangle Shirt Waist Company fire happened in Manhattan in which 145 employees died when they could not exit the burning building from the upper floors because of blocked doors and inoperable elevators. The tragedy garnered public pressure for worker safety and legal remedies, followed by a constitutional amendment and a new workers’ compensation law in 1914 that stuck. Many amendments have been made over the years.

At Silverman, Silverman & Seligman, P.C., our Schenectady lawyers focus on workers’ compensation and have decades of experience with New York’s complex workers’ compensation laws. We know how to work with initial claims as well as appeals to the New York Workers’ Compensation Board and to state court, if necessary.

Seek legal representation

New Yorkers who are injured or become ill in the course of their employment or whose loved ones die in work-related mishaps should seek legal advice as early as possible for early assistance with workers’ compensation, although an attorney can get involved at any stage. If benefits can be secured at the application state, significant time can be saved in later appeals.

At Silverman, Silverman & Seligman, P.C., we work hard to get your claim approved as early as possible. We have decades of workers’ compensation experience and are ready and able to help you with your claim. It is our passion to advocate for injured or ill workers and their families. Call us at 877-851-4319 or 518-631-4521 to schedule a phone or in-person conference at our Schenectady office.