Arthur Larson


The earliest workmen's compensation statutes in this country typically provided compensation only for industrial accidents. Coverage for occupational diseases developed slowly. There have been various reasons for this lag. One was the opinion in some jurisdictions that, while accidental injuries were known to the common law and could be made the subject of an action for damages, the concept of occupational diseases was a stranger to the lexicon of the precompensation-era common law. To the extent that workmen's compensation acts substituted nonfault liability for the kind of injuries that were potential subjects of fault liability, there was thought to be no place for occupational diseases, which, in the sense of a disease due to the "normal" conditions of the industry, as distinguished from the negligence of the employer, had consistently been held incapable of supporting a common law action. Another occasion for hesitation was uncertainty as to whether a problem as generalized and extensive as occupational disease could be more effectively and appropriately dealt with under workmen's compensation or general health insurance legislation. Finally, the obstacle which has been the most practical and persistent is the argument, discussed later in connection with the prime example of silicosis, that the heavy incidence of certain diseases in particular industries or areas would make their full coverage an impossible burden on the compensation system.