Workers’ Compensation Statutes.

Finally, the relationship of employer and employee, insofar as the obligations of the one and the rights of the other under worker’s compensation acts are concerned, has been the subject of differing and confusing treatment. In an early case, the injury occurred in New Hampshire, resulting in death to a workman who had entered the defendant company’s employ in Vermont, the home state of both parties. The Court required the New Hampshire courts to respect a Vermont statute which precluded a worker from bringing a common-law action against his employer for job related injuries where the employment relation was formed in Vermont, prescribing a constitutional rule giving priority to the place of the establishment of the employment relationship over the place of injury.135 The same result was achieved in a subsequent case, but the Court promulgated a new rule, applied thereafter, which emphasized a balancing of the governmental interests of each jurisdiction, rather than the mere application of the statutory rule of one or another state under full faith and credit.136 Thus, the Court held that the clause did not preclude California from disregarding a Massachusetts’s workmen’s compensation statute, making its law exclusive of any common law action or any law of any other jurisdiction, and applying its own act in the case of an injury suffered by a Massachusetts employee of a Massachusetts employer while in California in the course of his employment.137 It is therefore settled that an injured worker may seek a compensation award either in the state in which the injury occurred or in the state in which the employee resided, his employer was principally located, and the employment relation was formed, even if one statute or the other purported to confer an exclusive remedy on the workman.138

Less settled is the question whether a second state, with interests in the matter, may supplement a workers’ compensation award provided in the first state. At first, the Court ruled that a Louisiana employee of a Louisiana employer, who was injured on the job in Texas and who received an award under the Texas act, which did not grant further recovery to an employee who received compensation under the laws of another state, could not obtain additional compensation under the Louisiana statute.139 Shortly, however, the Court departed from this holding, permitting Wisconsin, the state of the injury, to supplement an award pursuant to the laws of Illinois, where the worker resided and where the employment contract had been entered into.140 Although the second case could have been factually distinguished from the first,141 the Court instead chose to depart from the principle of the first, saying that only if the laws of the first state making an award contained “unmistakable language” to the effect that those laws were exclusive of any remedy under the laws of any other state would supplementary awards be precluded.142 Although the overwhelming number of state court decisions since follow McCartin, and Magnolia has been little noticed, all the Justices expressed dissatisfaction with the former case as a rule of the Full Faith and Credit Clause, although a majority of the Court followed it and permitted a supplementary award.143


Bradford Elec. Co. v. Clapper, 286 U.S. 145 (1932). [Back to text]
Alaska Packers Ass’n v. Industrial Accident Comm’n, 294 U.S. 532 (1935). The state where the employment contract was made was permitted to apply its workmen’s compensation law despite the provision in the law of the state of injury making its law the exclusive remedy for injuries occurring there. See id. at 547 (stating the balancing test). [Back to text]
Pacific Employers Ins. Co. v. Industrial Accident Comm’n, 306 U.S. 493 (1939). [Back to text]
In addition to Alaska Packers and Pacific Ins., see Carroll v. Lanza, 349 U.S. 408 (1955); Cardillo v. Liberty Mutual Co., 330 U.S. 469 (1947); Crider v. Zurich Ins. Co., 380 U.S. 39 (1965); Nevada v. Hall, 440 U.S. 410, 421–24 (1979). [Back to text]
Magnolia Petroleum Co. v. Hunt, 320 U.S. 430 (1943). [Back to text]
Industrial Comm’n v. McCartin, 330 U.S. 622 (1947). [Back to text]
Employer and employee had entered into a contract of settlement under the Illinois act, the contract expressly providing that it did not affect any rights the employee had under Wisconsin law. 330 U.S. at 624. [Back to text]
330 U.S. at 627–28, 630. [Back to text]
Thomas v. Washington Gas Light Co., 448 U.S. 261 (1980). For the disapproval of McCartin, see id. at 269–72 (plurality opinion of four), 289 (concurring opinion of three), 291 (dissenting opinion of two). But the four Justice plurality would have instead overruled Magnolia, id. at 277–86, and adopted the rule of interest balancing used in deciding which state may apply its laws in the first place. The dissenting two Justices would have overruled McCartin and followed Magnolia. Id. at 290. The other Justices considered Magnolia the sounder rule but decided to follow McCurtin because it could be limited to workmen’s compensation cases, thus requiring no evaluation of changes throughout the reach of the Full Faith and Credit Clause. Id. at 286. [Back to text]