by Karl Voigt
Are there pain and suffering damages in workers’ compensation? Unfortunately, no. Injured workers in Pennsylvania never see the high awards one often hears about in personal injury cases. Our workers’ compensation clients know by experience that an injured worker is only entitled to payment for wage loss and medical bills. While there is no question that injured workers endure pain and suffering, there is no compensation for it.
Many of our workers’ compensation clients at some time during the progress of their case ask us why they can’t sue for pain and suffering. The answer requires a bit of a history lesson.
The rationale for this exclusion dates back to the Industrial Revolution and is based on a compromise made by the legislature when it crafted the then-new Workers’ Compensation Act in 1915. The Industrial Revolution, in full swing by the mid-nineteenth century, brought about some changes. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, Pennsylvania was primarily an agrarian economy. As the Industrial Revolution brought more industry to the Commonwealth, it also brought more injuries. In the 19th century, safety measures were not nearly as prevalent as they are today. As a result, there were far more work injuries.
Unfortunately, there being no Worker’s Compensation Act before 1915, an injured worker was often simply let go if he was unable to continue performing his regular job. Unable to work, he and his family became wards of the state. Naturally, the state did not want that burden.
In some cases, that worker sued in the Court of Common Pleas. While the suit may have taken years, he may have been award not just wage loss and medical damages, but also damages for pain and suffering. Naturally, employers did not want to face these potentially costly lawsuits.
So, we had three entities with competing interests: injured workers who didn’t want to be abandoned for an injury that wasn’t their fault, the state who didn’t want to have to be responsible for the care of disabled worker, and the employer who didn’t want to go out of business after paying high jury awards for its injured employees’ pain and suffering.
Acknowledging these competing interests and looking for a compromise, the legislature drafted the Act as follows:
- Employers would now have to pay for an insurance policy that would pay injured workers wage loss and medical benefits if they were injured at work. In return for making these premiums, they would enjoy immunity from suits for pain and suffering.
- The Commonwealth would not have to take responsibility for a worker who had become
- Employees would now have a “safety net” designed to pay them wage loss and medical benefits relatively quickly. However, they would lose their right to sue for pain and suffering damages.
The system has certainly evolved over the past 100 years, but this underlying compromise has certainly remained.