« ÎnapoiContinuă »
pute are considered and in a large proportion of cases the matter is satisfactorily settled. This method not only expedites procedure by eliminating the time and expense of formal hearings, but also promotes amicable relationships between the parties and helps to establish a feeling of confidence.
REVISION OF BENEFITS.
It frequently happens, after an agreement has been drawn up or an award has been made, that the incapacity of the injured workman or the measure of dependency has been changed, necessitating a modification of benefits in conformity with changed conditions. Practically all of the States provide for revision of benefits under certain circumstances if conditions warrant. As a rule a review may be had upon application of either party or upon the commission's own motion. Usually a time limit is set after which no review will be allowed, although a number of States provide that an award may be modified at any time if circumstances justify a change. In some States, however, lump-sum settlements, when once made, are final and not subject to review or modification.
NONRESIDENT ALIEN DEPENDENTS.
One of the matters of regret, and perhaps the only one, in changing from the old liability system, is the reopening of the question of the status of nonresident beneficiaries of aliens who lose their lives in employment in this country. After a long series of adjudications and legislative action the position had been reached of equal treatment before the law of the dependents and personal representatives of all persons employed, without reference to their citizenship status. Comparatively recent legislation in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin has made the liability acts of these States available for the benefit of nonresident alien claimants, thus reversing the adverse rulings of the courts on this subject in these two States, which were the principal remaining strongholds of the harsh doctrine excluding them.
The question of the rights of aliens to accident compensation became of especial importance when the United States declared war against Austria-Hungary and particularly after the enactment of the Trading with the Enemy Act. A large proportion of the workers in some of our basic industries, especially coal mining and iron and steel manufacturing, were subjects of Austria-Hungary, and therefore enemy aliens.
The provisions as to the status of nonresident alien beneficiaries in the 45 compensation laws can be seen from the following table:
TABLE 32.-PROVISIONS OF COMPENSATION LAWS AS TO NONRESIDENT ALIEN
1 Not specifically mentioned in law, but included by court or commission.
2 Fatal accidents not covered.
It will be noted that 6 States make no statutory provision for nonresident alien dependents, while in some of the States in the "included" column also such alien dependents are not specifically mentioned in the law but have been included by virtue of the rulings of the courts or commissions; 5 States exclude them from the benefits of the act; 1645 include all beneficiaries and provide for full compensation; while 18 States 46 recognize them but establish limitations
45 Alaska, California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
46 Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
either by reducing the amount of benefits payable in cases where the beneficiaries are nonresidents or by limiting the classes of beneficiaries to whom payment may be made, or by doing both. There may be a plausible justification for a proportionate reduction of benefits corresponding to the lower cost of living in foreign countries and possibly for a restriction of the groups of beneficiaries to immediate members of the injured employee's family; but even these restrictions open the door for injurious discriminations against American citizens by reason of the fact that injuries to aliens whose possible beneficiaries are nonresident entail less expense on the employer of such labor than do injuries to Americans. Several European countries have entered into reciprocal agreements guaranteeing mutual benefits to each other's nationals, but such a measure would be without practical benefit in this country. Because of its unfairness to citizen employees the discriminatory treatment of aliens, on the whole, lacks justification, even though the danger of burdening the State or municipality with dependent charges is absent.
Compensation payments are supposed to be a substitute for wages, and accordingly every State except three 47 provides that such payments shall be made in weekly or monthly installments. The purpose of small regular payments is to prevent unwise and unnecessary expenditures which lump-sum settlements might facilitate. Injured workmen and especially dependent widows all too frequently squander the entire amount of compensation, and in a short time are left penniless and a burden upon the community. On the other hand, under certain circumstances the commutation of weekly payments into a lump sum would be beneficial and desirable. Especially is this true in case of a permanently disabled workman who wishes to start a small independent business or who desires to return to his native country, where cost of living is much cheaper.
The practice of granting commutations, however, unless properly restricted, opens the way for abuses and injustices. A lump sum looks large to a workman or his dependents, who are usually willing to compromise upon an amount much less than that to which they are legally entitled. Frequently the attorney receives a large portion of the lump-sum settlement. And, furthermore, the commissions, harassed by their many administrative duties, are at times inclined to grant lump sums without proper investigation in order that the case may be settled and closed. The laws of most States therefore provide that lump-sum payments must be approved by the commission or court and must be in the interest of the beneficiary or of
47 Alaska, Porto Rico, and Wyoming.
both parties, leaving the question of necessity or justice to the discretion of the administrative body. Some States require that a certain time elapse, usually six months, before commutations may be granted at all, and in most cases the application for a lump sum must be made by either or both of the interested parties, although in a number of States the commission is authorized to grant such commutations on its own motion.
Table 33 shows when and under what conditions commutations may be granted in the several States:
TABLE 33.-CONDITIONS UNDER WHICH LUMP-SUM SETTLEMENTS ARE PERMITTED UNDER COMPENSATION LAWS.
TABLE 33.-CONDITIONS UNDER WHICH LUMP-SUM SETTLEMENTS ARE PERMITTED UNDER COMPENSATION LAWS-Concluded.
ACCIDENT REPORTING AND ACCIDENT PREVENTION. Coordinate with the movement for the enactment of workmen's compensation laws has been the growth of the movement for accident prevention. In fact, our workmen's compensation laws have been enacted in the vague belief that industrial accidents are inevitable and constitute a permanent and integral part of our industrial life. For a number of years prior to the enactment of the first compensation laws in 1911, a considerable amount of safety legislation had been on the statute books of many of the more advanced industrial States, but the extent and effectiveness of these laws as regards accident prevention were unsatisfactory. The methods of prevention were practically limited to the mechanical guarding of danger points, and as there appeared to be no diminution in the number of accidents it came to be felt that perhaps accidents, like the poor, were always to be with us. The enactment of workmen's compensation legislation, however, in which the financial burden placed upon the employer was in direct proportion to his accident rate, gave a fresh impetus to accident-prevention work. Better and more comprehensive safety laws were passed. Moreover, the casualty insurance companies entered upon a new era of active accident prevention, which was shared by many of the larger manufacturing establishments throughout the country.