Blocked by novel judicial defenses that deprived them of the common law remedies that the general public enjoyed, workers agitated for decades until growing political pressure led employers and the courts to accept worker’s compensation in America at the beginning of the twentieth century. Two remarkable side-effects of the Worker’s Compensation Acts were the ignition of the safety movement and the reformulation of tort law in regards to technological harms. These changes came just as some of the dangers formerly reserved for industrial workers began to be visited upon consumers in the form of new, complex, and mass-produced products. Safety-minded engineers joined together to reassess the role of technology in accident-related injury, creating a new framework for design that shed old deterministic assumptions about operator behavior. Likewise, the legal community re-imagined tort law in view of a broad no-fault worker’s compensation system. The legal formulation culminated in a strict products liability regime in 1964, and a sea change in the social status of technology itself. But these two revolutionary conceptions, both oriented toward the protection of the user, are not equal: modern legal disputes serve to expose the disconnect between the engineering and legal frameworks of safe design.

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