You were there–and we want to hear about it!

Tell us your story

As part of the commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the first Workers’ Compensation Act passed in Pennsylvania in 1915, the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Centennial Committee is preparing a book highlighting the history and heritage of this legislation.

What we want from you are any experiences, vignettes, war stories, or anything else you would be willing to share with your colleagues.  Take a minute and think about:

  • Important precedent in which you or your firm or office had involvement
  • Noteworthy lawyers, referees, judges, and other men and women who have played a significant role in our practice
  • What sets apart the workers’ comp practice from other focuses in the practice of law

You get the idea.  So please take some moments to think this over and send the Centennial Committee your piece of history: written narratives, photographs, and whatever else you think adds spice to the mix.  We need to have them by Friday, October 31, 2014, to have the materials ready in time for publication.  Please send your materials to either Ben Costello ( or Rob Keenan (

Any materials submitted become the property of the Centennial Committee and are subject to reasonable editing.  The Committee will try and use as much material as possible, but submission of any materials does not guarantee publication.

Here is a link to the same request in PDF format, convenient for printing or attaching to an email message: WC 100 Anecdote Solicitation.

Arthur Larson: Most Influential Workers’ Compensation Scholar in U.S. History

View Judge Torrey’s review of the book, Modern Republican: Arthur Larson and the Eisenhower Years

The late Arthur Larson (1910-93), was the author of the seminal treatise on workers’ compensation laws, Larson’s Workers’ Compensation (Matthew Bender/Lexis).  That text, first published as a two-volume work in 1952, is now to be found in eleven thick volumes that take up considerable space at most law libraries.  Although Larson died in 1993, his son keeps the treatise up to date.  In the present day, the book is most widely read on-line via  Lexis. So authoritative and comprehensive is the treatise that it would be reckless to declare that a particular issue has been unaddressed under state workers’ compensation laws, without first examining this masterful work.

The book review linked above summarizes a 2006 biography of Larson.  The author, David L. Stebenne of Ohio State University, provides an edifying account of Larson’s life with an initial focus on the family, social, and educational environment that gave rise to Larson’s political philosophy.  The book also recounts his career as a lawyer, workers’ compensation scholar, and Eisenhower Administration official.


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A short bibliography

View the essay (PDF): A Short Bibliography of Workers’ Compensation Histories

Those interested in reading about the history of workers’ compensation have several contemporary titles to which to turn. The leading treatment is A Prelude to the Welfare State: The Origins of Workers’ Compensation (2000), by economic historians Fishback and Kantor. The most recent, meanwhile, is Yale Law Professor John Fabian Witt’s The Accidental Republic: Crippled Workingmen, Destitute Widows, and the Remaking of American Law (2004). In this note, the author provides a short bibliography of the essential literature on the history and evolution of workers’ compensation. The intent of this essay is to provide the reader a guide to the impressive number of historical treatments of workers’ compensation that have been published over the last few years. Some of these items treat the issue of workers’ compensation broadly, others narrowly, and still others are oriented to the allied fields of occupational and industrial medicine.

Hawk’s Nest Tunnel tragedy highlights occupational disease (1930-32)

View the essay (PDF): The Hawk’s Nest Tunnel Tragedy

When Pennsylvania, in 1915, enacted its workers’ compensation law, it omitted coverags for occupational diseases like Black Lung (coal workers’ pneumoconiosis) and silicosis. This omission was quite momentous, as Pennsylvania 100 years ago was a major coal mining state, and even then everyone knew that dusty mine environments created the hazards of these two diseases.  Only in the late 1930’s, when labor was strong in the state legislature, were these diseases, and others, added in a separate Occupational Disease Law.

Our neighboring state of West Virginia at first also omitted occupational diseases.  Like Pennsylvania, however, West Virginia added coverage for dust diseases in the 1930’s.

Pressure on the West Virginia legislature to add such diseases came in part from the early 1930’s tragedy at Hawk’s Nest, in Fayette County, about three hours south of Pittsburgh.  Indeed, when it comes to occupational diseases, many identify the “Hawk’s Nest Incident” as America’s worst industrial disaster.  There, the workers were exposed to heavy concentrations of silica dust as they participated in the whirlwind digging of a tunnel through a mountain of solid silica quartz.  Many became sickened right as they labored, with hundreds dying in and around the tunnel.  The most reliable estimate establishes that 764 workers died, 581 of whom were African-Americans.

The essay linked above recounts this seminal event in occupational disease history, as analyzed over the decades in public health literature, in fiction, and in poetry.


No right to trial by jury (1915)

View the essay (PDF): Workers’ Compensation and the Right to Trial by Jury

When workers’ compensation laws were enacted, most states eliminated the injured worker’s right to a jury trial for personal injury against the employer.  These states, including Pennsylvania, replaced both the tort remedy and the civil law forum with no-fault liability and an administrative law system of dispute resolution.  Many at the time questioned whether this traditional right could legitimately be abolished.

What is the precise reason why the U.S. Supreme Court, and most state courts, held that the right to jury trial could be abolished by workers’ compensation laws?  The note linked above seeks to answer that question, both with regard to Pennsylvania and other states as well.

PA Industrial Accidents Commission Report (1912)

View the essay (PDF): 1912 Industrial Accidents Commission Report

Within a year of Crystal Eastman’s 1910 report on work accidents in Pennsylvania, New York, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts all abolished the common law system of work accident recovery and replaced it with workers’ compensation.  Pennsylvania, as many have pointed out, lagged a bit behind. In that same year, 1911, however, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a bill that created the Pennsylvania Industrial Accidents Commission. The Commission issued its report on December 31, 1912, recommending both the enactment of workers’ compensation and a constitutional amendment to facilitate a mandatory Act.

The note linked above  comments briefly on the Commission’s Report.  Here also you will find a link where the Commission Report can be read for free on-line.

“Work-Accidents and the Law” (1910)

View the essay (PDF): Work-Accidents and the Law

In the first decades of the 20th century, before the enactment of the Workers’ Compensation Act, the industrial scene in Pittsburgh was the focus of a legendary study of work conditions.  That effort was “The Pittsburgh Survey,” and one of its final components was a review of work accidents and how they were treated by the law.  This aspect of the survey, Work-Accidents and the Law (1910), was undertaken by the social reformer and law school graduate Crystal Eastman.

The note linked above summarizes that renowned study, which is said to have raised awareness in Pennsylvania of unsafe work conditions and the resulting epidemic of uncompensated work injuries and deaths.  Here also you will find a link where Work Accidents and the Law can be read for free on-line.

For yet another account, see

And here is a link to excerpts from the Pittsburgh Survey, and related photos:

We have launched our essay contest!

With prizes of $3000 and $2000, we hope the finest scholars among Pennsylvania law students will want to do their best work in this competition. Click the Essay Contest tab above for all the info.

Commemorating the Aetna Chemical Company Explosion

Saturday, May 18, is the 95th Anniversary of the explosion at the Aetna Chemical Company in Oakdale, PA, in the southwest corner of Allegheny County.

At noon on May 18, local historian Dan Prevade will launch the first of the Hometown History Series, examining the circumstances surrounding the explosion & aftermath. He will be at The Rock in Oakdale, 150 West State Street, Oakdale, Pa. 15071 . Weather permitting, Dan will conduct a tour of local sites near where the explosion occurred. The event is free for anyone to attend.

Email with any questions.