Friday, June 24, 2022
American Bar Association, The Brief, Volume 51, No. 3, p.8 (Spring 2022).
The year 2022 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the Report of the National Commission on State Workmen’s Compensation Laws.* That 1972 Report was the culmination of a year-long effort by a large panel – supported by a small army of researchers and consultants – which set forth, among other things, nineteen essential recommendations for a modern state workers’ compensation program.
The Commission did not, as sometimes represented, recommend federalization of the system. To the contrary, the Commission favored state administration, but called for Congress to enforce the essential recommendations after three years in the event that the states did not comply and adopt them.
While federal action did not, in the end, unfold, the Report has remained an enduring and influential force in the community of lawyers, academics, and others involved in the understanding and assessment of workers’ compensation programs. So comprehensive, thoughtful, and expert is the Report that, to this day, no analysis of the system can competently be undertaken without reference to this pivotal study.
The latter phenomenon is due at least two factors. First, despite the passage of a half-century, the basic principles and objectives of the system have not changed. Second, the Chairman of the Commission, John F. Burton, Jr. (an economist with a law degree) in the years following the Report emerged as the nation’s uncontested authority on workers’ compensation – and an untiring exponent of the Commission’s broader vision. Burton, along with Executive Director Peter S. Barth, have consistently revisited the Report with retrospectives and public addresses, challenging system participants to reflect on whether the promise of workers’ compensation is being vindicated in practice. A third factor must be added: the Report is a literary masterpiece and a pleasure to read.
The Commission’s Chief Counsel, John Lewis, has characterized the Commission and its Report as marking a turning point in workers’ compensation. The Report “provided a critically needed analysis, one that ought to be constantly reviewed and renewed, rather than being left as a historical document.”
Toward that end, this writer has published an article in the ABA periodical, The Brief, which sets forth a fiftieth anniversary briefing on the Commission and its Report. The article sets forth the background and substance of the Report, its aftermath, its impact, its attitude towards lawyers, and thoughts regarding this remarkable document’s enduring relevance.
* Nat’l Comm’n on State Workmen’s Compensation Laws, The Report of the National Commission on State Workmen’s Compensation Laws (1972) (hereinafter Nat’l Comm’n Report), http://workerscompresources.com/national-commission-report/.