After the passing of FELA at the federal level, states began to enact workers’ compensation laws that would apply to employees more generally—not just to railroad workers.
Although several states attempted to enact workers’ compensation laws around the same time that FELA was passed, these laws were struck down as unconstitutional when challenged in court. It wasn’t until Wisconsin passed the Workmen’s Compensation Act in 1911 that a workers’ compensation law was found to be constitutional. This act puts into place a “no-fault” system so that a worker would no longer be obligated to prove that there was negligence on the employer’s part to receive benefits. It also eliminated the three common law defenses that employers could use that were very difficult to overcome in court—remember the “fellow servant” rule and the contributory negligence principle from earlier in the article?
The Wisconsin lawmakers’ intent was that employers would be required to accurately and promptly compensate their workers for any injuries suffered while on the job, regardless of whether the employer or a co-worker was at fault. In return, the 1911 law limited how much money Wisconsin workers could recover. This made it so that workers were generally only entitled to recover lost wages, medical treatment costs, specific disability payments, and vocational rehabilitation or retraining payments.
In the same year Wisconsin passed its workers’ compensation law, nine other states passed their own workers’ compensation law. By the end of the 1910s, 36 other states had passed workers’ compensation regulations. Mississippi was the last state to pass its own workers’ compensation laws, in 1948.
This story originally appeared on Simply Business and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.
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