Workers’ Compensation, the Wainwright Commission, and Negligence

Workers' Compensation

Workers' Compensation

My Country – Workers’ Compensation

On March 19, 1910, personal injury lawyers got a new tort to litigate in New York. The Wainwright Commission reported to the New York legislature about work-related industrial accidents. The commission sought to explain that the common law remedies for workplace injuries were insufficient.

First, the commission rejected the theory that workers earned compensation based on the dangerous nature of their work. According to the commission, workers received no meaningful wage compensation based on the risks they took because no meaningful contracts incorporated risk between employees and employers. “As a matter of fact, under modern industrial conditions the individual workers consent and assumes the risk only because in the ordinary case he has no option to do anything else.”

The biggest problem was, though, that for an employee to be compensated for any injury, they needed to sue their employer. And they needed to prove employer negligence. Generally, the employer had three simple defenses: contributory negligence, the fellow-servant rule, and assumption of risk. In other words, if the employee had any fault, or another employee was at fault, or if the employee knew of the dangers, the employer would not be found liable.

To counteract these hurdles, the Wainwright Commission recommended a Workers’ Compensation system. They proposed a two-tiered strategy. First, for dangerous industries, they recommended an enactment of a compulsory workers’ compensation statute. For nondangerous industries, the Commission recommended a restriction on the employers’ common law defenses and an elective system of workers’ compensation.

However, first, New York needed to amend its constitution because the New York courts found a compulsory compensation law unconstitutional.

History of Workers’ Compensation

As the Wainwright Commission noted, the basis of liability prior to workers’ compensation laws was negligence. Justice Douglas noted that 25% of accidents occurred with some negligence of the injured employee. 50% of injuries occurred based on risk inherent in the work. Therefore, the common law defenses noted in the Wainwright Commission. Additionally, workers could not afford any accident insurance.

Employers assumed that injuries were part of the job – all legitimate costs of doing business. Unfortunately, the injured employees disagreed.

Daily Briefing

  • Liberalism has one huge blindspot: long term judiciary. No one understand that the conservative movement wants to destroy the government. That has been clear for almost a decade. Yet, here we are. And they will get a third vote designed to cut the government apart. Nothing Bernie Sanders could ever want will become law with this Supreme Court structure.
  • I have many Showcase volumes with Bernie Wrightson art. His art had the perfect feel for horror comics.
  • It does not matter what a Secretary of State wants. He works for us and we deserve to have the press on that plane.
  • Having a White House with no major scandals followed by one that has been investigated by the FBI everyday stuns me. The restrictions they have added to their employees is utterly maddening.
  • These stories come out every day of Trump supporters and the neighbors they hurt. It all reminds me of The Simpsons episode.

Daily Distraction

To honor Bernie Wrightson, I flipped through some House of Mystery Showcases. These simple stories never really have a good plot. They plod and become incredibly corny. The purpose of the books is the art. Much like I bought the Sgt. Rock stories for Joe Kubert’s art, I bought the House of Mystery Showcases for the art. One of the joys of comic books (especially in the 1970s) was how powerful the artists were. They produced an amazing amount of content but used interesting pencil work.

One Sentence Story

Unless it’s a $1,000 prize, I’m not going to worry about it too much.


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