The year 2013 will mark 100 years of workers’ compensation law in Nebraska. This state was a leader in adopting the new protections and benefits for workers. The first workers’ compensation laws in the United States were enacted two years earlier, and few states had followed by 1913. Workers’ compensation laws were hailed as social progress, if not outright human-rights triumphs. Nebraska was a leader in protecting workers’ rights. Much has changed since then.
The current workplace is not the workplace that existed 100 years ago. The jobs then were much more physically demanding and dangerous. The injuries and diseases are not the same. Repetitive-motion injury was not contemplated or compensated. Cancer from industrial solvents was not contemplated or compensated. Mental disease was stigmatized by society and essentially not compensated. Medical practice was less specialized, and treatment options were much more limited.
Interested parties have long been working to keep the law in sync with the times. The law has changed from time to time, but some of the bedrock concepts, such as requiring “accident” have resulted in some rules that lawyers call legal fictions, for instance. Medical benefits that experts consider the most basic protection are the most costly part of the system, and cost increases are an area of constant concerns.
Competing legislation is presented each year with incremental changes resulting. The last major revisions happened 20 years ago. The annual arguments sometimes get heated, but the law seems to advance. The big picture is something we can be proud of.
Nebraska law has the highest rating of any state under presidential-commission guidelines established in 1972. Premiums and costs are in the mid-range of the states, as are worker benefits. Nebraska is rated as the 2nd-best state legal climate by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Nebraska is one of few states that has robust vocational rehabilitation benefits for injured workers. Hopefully we can continue working together to maintain and improve Nebraska’s workers’ compensation law in ways that benefit all of the competing interests.
Bottom-line conclusion: Nebraska law is doing well for a centenarian. Let’s keep cooperating to ensure progress.