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What is workers' compensation and who is eligible?

Workers' compensation is a relatively new idea in the legal world. In the 1800s, states passed a series of laws which allowed employees to sue their employers for damages if they were injured while on the job. In these cases the employee had to prove negligence in order to recover any damages. By 1949, decades after a U.S. Supreme Court paved the way, all U.S. states had enacted a modern version of the workers' compensation law. These new laws waived the requirement that the employee prove negligence to recover for their injury.

Workers' compensation laws vary from state to state. In Massachusetts, the Department of Industrial Accidents oversees the state's compensation system. Massachusetts, like many other states, requires all employers to maintain workers' compensation insurance. Those who do not maintain the insurance face civil and criminal penalties including up to a year in jail. Massachusetts does maintain a public fund which covers the expenses of workers employed by non-insured employers.

The type and extent of injuries covered by workers' compensation varies, and compensation can be received even if you are able to work in some capacity. To qualify for compensation, an employee must suffer a work-related injury or illness. The type of benefits received depends on the effects of the injury or illness and range from temporary partial incapacity benefits to survivor and dependent benefits.

In Massachusetts, 50 percent of workers' compensation claims are paid without a dispute from the insurance company. The remaining claims often face legal and institutional hurdles which must be cleared before payment. For many, the complexity of workers' compensation litigation requires the help of a trained attorney familiar with the Bay State's workers' compensation system.

Source: Mass.gov, http://www.mass.gov/lwd/workers-compensation/injured-workers/ accessed on Aug. 31, 2014

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