Workers' Compensation In California

The concept behind modern workers’ compensation laws, that employers should provide for their employees in the event of injury, can be traced as far back as ancient Babylon where both employers and slave masters were required by law to pay for their workers’ medical care in the event of illness or injury.

The modern concept of workers’ compensation developed during the Industrial Revolution in Europe in the 19th century. The concept crossed the Atlantic, and today, every State and territory has such laws in place, including the Federal government.

Before the enactment of California’s workers’ compensation laws, injured workers were required to file common civil law suits against their employers in order to recover damages to pay for economic losses and medical treatment. Injured workers had the burden of proving their employer’s fault, and employers were allowed to raise normal civil defenses such as contributory negligence of the worker, assumption of risk by the worker, and fellow-servant causation.

If the worker failed to prove that the employer caused the injury, the worker recovered nothing. If the employer could prove that the worker’s own negligence or that the actions of a fellow employee caused the injury, the worker recovered nothing. Or, if the employer could prove that the worker understood and assumed the risks involved in the job, and the worker was injured as a result of these dangers, the worker recovered nothing.

California’s workers’ compensation laws were first developed in the early 1900’s and were codified by the Boynton Act of 1913. Although there have been many amendments and reforms to these laws over the years, the basic principles have remained the same – that California workers are entitled to medical treatment and compensation payments for industrial injuries.

Today, California’s workers’ compensation system is a “no-fault” system of recovery. Instead of having the burden of proving the fault of your employer in causing your injury, now you simply have to show that your injury arose out of and occurred during the course of your employment in order to present a legitimate claim. In turn, your employer can no longer assert the defenses of contributory negligence, assumption of risk, or the fellow-servant doctrine.

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