Workmen’s Compensation: Toward a Stricter Liability for Enterprise

This article considers the situation in which an employee injured by a defective product in the course of his employment can proceed both against his employer insured by a workmen’s compensation program and against a manufacturer of the employer’s equipment who is strictly liable under a claim of products liability. The focus is not on the manufacturer as employer but on the manufacturer as supplier of defective equipment which causes injury. This is the best situation for analyzing the problems arising from the present system for distributing losses because, where the negligence of the employer has been an independent cause of the workman’s injury, the equities pertaining to the apportionment of damages are evenly balanced. Traditional tort theory would denominate the employer and manufacturer joint tortfeasors. Both are in a position to spread the cost of any recovery to those with whom they deal. Moreover, no element of sympathy enhances the position of either the employer or the manufacturer. A study of this situation points to grave inequities, judicial dissatisfaction, and a need for legislative reevaluation of the structure of the current enterprise liability system.