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The workers compensation system was one of the triumphs of the industrial age. The system is the cumulative result of years of strife and compromise between employer/owners and employee/labor. The struggle toward this useful social compromise began in the 1870s with the organized labor movement and came to fruition in 1911 with the passage of the first state workers compensation law in Wisconsin.

In the workers compensation system, injured employees relinquish the right to sue their employers for employment-related injuries in return for a statutorily imposed mechanism that provides specific scheduled benefits. These benefits are funded, for the most part, through insurance policies that employers purchase from insurance companies. Indeed, in most states, employers must insure their workers compensation exposure or become qualified self-insurers. Employers should not simply decide to operate without insurance. If they do, they risk being fined—and still have to pay the benefits that are set by law when an employee is injured on the job.

Peter Westerman


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