Early in the 20th century, many states enacted legislation making it easier for workers injured at work to receive compensation while disabled from work injuries. Workers were no longer required to prove negligence in civil court in order to receive compensation for work injuries. The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act created an administrative process for the adjudication of claims. The Act provides for compensation for wage loss and medical expenses for injuries which occur in the course and scope of employment. The definition of injury includes aggravation of pre-existing conditions, as well as mental or psychological conditions.
The Pennsylvania system has worked well for more than 100 years, and has provided a necessary safety net for workers who might otherwise become destitute because of a work-related disability. All 50 states have similar legislation to provide compensation to injured workers.
While the state administers the system, private insurance companies handle individual claims. By law, employers are required to have an insurance policy to provide workers’ compensation for injured workers. These insurance companies are beholden to their shareholders and are focused on making and increasing profits. Workers’ compensation insurance policies are the second most profitable policy line for insurance companies.
Workers’ compensation laws could become meaningless to injured workers without vigilant oversight from the state and appellate courts.
Recently, conservatives across the country have initiated legislative efforts to allow employers to handle their own workers’ compensation cases instead of having traditional workers’ compensation laws. Some states, including Pennsylvania, also are considering efforts to preclude lawyers from representing claimants in the workers’ compensation system.
Thankfully, these efforts have fallen short. However, they seem to arise like tulips each spring. A notable workers’ compensation judge, speaking at a recent conference, made an off-handed reference to these efforts, noting that removing lawyers would give full advantage to private insurance companies. If something like this proposal were to be passed into law, injured workers would be at the mercy of professional insurance adjusters and their attorneys who work behind the scenes.
Workers’ compensation laws should matter to all workers. All workers have the potential of experiencing work injuries and could even become disabled as a result. Workers’ compensation laws provide just and necessary compensation to those who have the misfortune of a work injury. Legislative or judicial efforts to limit rights or legal representation for injured workers must be challenged at every turn to prevent workers from losing these rights altogether.
If you have a question or concern about workers’ compensation in Pennsylvania, call one of the certified workers’ compensation lawyers at Willig, Williams & Davidson, at 800-631-1233.