Volume 46, Issue 4 (July 2001)
Using Decision Science to Gain Insight into Ethical Issues: An Example Involving Thresholds in Workers' Compensation
Systematically analyzing and comparing the ethical dimensions of policy-decision alternatives is remarkably difficult. The ethical implications of a set of decision alternatives, as well as the ranking of that set, are subject to any number of quantitative and qualitative variables, not the least of which is differing individual interpretation. In spite of this, decision science offers a consistent, transparent framework from which to analyze the ethical components and implications of policy decisions.
Workers' Compensation insurance programs are state-governed systems of insurance in which workers, in exchange for giving up the right to sue their employer and their coemployees, receive some compensation if they are injured on the job, without regard as to who was at fault. Importantly. Workers' Compensation does not compensate workers for all losses. Thus, injured workers often sue those who provide goods and services to their employer's production system.
Different states set different thresholds relating to who can be brought into such a lawsuit and under what conditions a sued means-of-production entity can, in turn, bring the injured party's employer into the suit as a third-party defendant. Forensic engineers are often involved in such lawsuits to evaluate whether or not a given component of a production system is or is not defective.
Using Workers' Compensation as an example, this paper explores the methodology and the difficulty of quantifying the ethical implications of policy decisions by examining the concept of thresholding a policy variable. Thresholding will be defined and the ethical effect on the various parties of varying a policy threshold will be discussed.