Document Type



“The Transformation of Work and the Law of Workplace Accidents, 1842-1910,” 107 Yale Law Journal 1467 (1998)


The common law rules of fellow servant, assumption of risk, and contributory negligence posed a series of daunting obstacles for nineteenth- century workers seeking to recover for injuries suffered on the job. Strong opposition to the "unholy trinity" of the common law's workplace accident regime began to develop among progressive reformers in the first decade of the twentieth century. In 1910, New York State enacted the first modem workmen's compensation law in the United States, providing compensation to injured workers and their families without regard to fault. By the end of the decade an astounding thirty-nine states, the District of Columbia, and three U.S. territories had followed New York's lead.

The transformation of work accident law has been the subject of a large and sometimes contentious scholarship among historians, lawyers, and social scientists. Scholars have generally been inattentive, however, to the ways in which the transformation of the law of work accidents reflected and gave shape to an important shift in the ways in which Americans thought about and organized work itself. This Note argues that the nineteenth-century law of workplace accidents is perhaps best understood by reference to what historian Daniel Rodgers has described as nineteenth-century Americans' "moral preoccupation with labor."

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