Between 1910 and 1921 forty two of the forty eight U.S. states passed Workmen’s Compensation legislation in response to a widespread perception that the United States was in the grip of an epidemic of workplace accidents. The epidemic of workplace accidents generated two phenomena which concerned policymakers and lobbyists: injured workers and lawsuits. Workplace accidents left many workers disabled and unable to find work, thus simultaneously increasing the burdens of these workers and their families while reducing their income prospects. Policymakers and lobbyists generally perceived lawsuits in response to workplace injuries as part of the problem. They saw lawsuits as creating greater conflict between employers and employees due to the adversarial nature of trials, as not providing compensation to injured workers at an adequate level or speed, and as costing a great deal of money. As a result, Workmen’s Compensation laws channeled claims by injured workers out of courtrooms and into commissions which sought to process injury claims in a manner which removed questions of fault, paid injured workers more quickly, and lowered costs per claim.

Workmen’s Compensation laws, as the name suggests, were written with men in mind. It appears that injured women may have fared better than men did under the common law system of handling workplace injuries. All male juries appear to have issued verdicts in favor of I injured women workers more often than injured men and to have awarded injured women higher damages. It also appears that the creation of Workmen’s Compensation in Wisconsin may have put the jobs of disabled workers at risk. In cases of injury employees were allowed compensation based on their level of capacity or incapacity after injury. This meant that compensation was not based on injury but based on the post-injury condition, so that a one armed worker who lost an arm would be compensated the same as a two armed worker who lost both arms. As a result, some employers appear to have become more hesitant to hire already disabled workers, viewing these workers as a greater financial risk to employ.

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