Reading Time: 9 minutes.

George E. McNeill
 A Study of Accidents and Accident Insurance
The Insurance Topics Co., Boston

Who was George E. McNeill?

The cover page of his book lists Mr. McNeill as: “President International Accident Underwriters’ Association of American and Treasurer and General Manager of Massachusetts Mutual Accident Association.”

He was born George Edward McNeill on August 4, 1836 in Amesbury, Massachusetts. During childhood and beginning at age 10, he worked in several Amesbury textile mills. He participated in a strike at age 15 seeking shortening of work days to 10 hours. After he and all other employees got fired, he became a shoemaker apprentice. At age 20 he moved to Boston.

He was an early labor leader. He became engaged in worker causes, especially shortening the work day, reducing accidents and offering worker’s compensation. He served as an officer of several organizations focused on worker issues. He also engaged with several worker-related newspapers in New York and Boston.

Because there were few job-related safety rules and no workmen’s compensation when there was an accident, in 1883 he founded the Massachusetts Accident Company that provided low-cost insurance to factory workers. He contributed to an 1892 book, one of the first comprehensive histories of the American labor movement: The Labor Movement, or, the Problem of Today.

He died at age 69 on May 19, 1906.

A Study of Accidents and Accident Insurance

This book provides a large amount of detailed data and information about accident insurance and accidents. It has to be one of the earliest studies of accidents and many factors surrounding them. The author shows his comprehensive knowledge of the subjects covered. His insights are based on facts and key resources available in 1900.

Chapter 1: A Brief History of Accident Insurance

The author cites the Insurance Cyclopedia as identifying a very early type of accident insurance: ”In the ancient Sea-Laws of Wisby, under a 1541 date, mention is made of the practice of the owners of ships insuring the lives of the masters against the perils of the sea.”

He cites a 1661 author who names a French publication, Le Guidon, believed to be about 300 years old, that described insurance types. One type was similar to accident insurance: “Another kind of insurance is made by other nations, upon the life of men, in case of their decease upon their voyage, to pay certain sums to their heirs or creditors.”

He states that Netherlands insured its soldiers engaged in service for their country as far back as 1665 that paid for loss of one or both eyes, one or both arms, both hands, one or both legs and one or both feet.

He noted an English insurance company offered insurance against railroad accidents in 1845. The policies paid benefits for death and non-fatal injuries. He explains an expansion of accident insurance to differentiate the insured by type of occupation: professional men, master tradesmen, construction operations, and hazardous occupations. He also describes one company’s policy that created a schedule of 37 different injury types and associated compensation.

Accident insurance in the United States began about 1850. Initial companies were in Massachusetts and began as health insurance companies, but achieved official changes in their charter to offer accident insurance policies. For some companies, initial accident policies covered accidents by railroad or steamboat. However, the concepts for later policies were risks and exposures. The oldest stock company noted was Travelers, which began in 1864.

Chapter 2: Facts and Deductions from an Analysis of One Thousand Consecutive Accidents.

The author provides detailed analyses of 1000 consecutive accidents (assumed to be claims to one insurer). Six were fatalities. Only a few women were among the injured and most of them were government clerks. For the 994 non-fatal accidents, the book provides numerous detailed analyses. The categories of analysis include: part of the body, hours of the day or night, professions and occupations, nature of the injury, activity of injured at the time of the accident, and state in the U.S.

Of the 50 body parts used to classify injury frequency, the following have the most frequent claims:
right hand 107
left hand 78
back 57
right and left hand 51
lower left leg 38
left ankle 41
lower right leg 36
right knee 31
chest 30


The most frequent nature of injuries included:
contusions and bruises 253
sprains 203
abrasions and lacerations 151
cuts 123


There were also

       fractures                 65

       burns                      34

       dislocations            26

       conjunctivitis         24

       amputations            14


Most accidents occurred during mornings of the day shift hours, followed by the afternoon hours.


Most accidents involved:

       mechanics              279

       business men          266

       clerks                     145

       professional men    95

Detailed tables identify occupations within these groups and accident frequencies for each occupation.


The most common activity classes were:

       occupations and professions          434

       house and grounds                         153

       due to horses                                  123

       on the street                                   126

       amusements and bicycles              114


Details for activities proved interesting. For example, the activities included

       • amusements                 bicycling, playing specific sports, dancing, fishing, etc.,

       • house and grounds       fall down stairs, chopping wood, etc.,



       • related to horses  thrown from carriage, kicked, stepped on, etc.,

       • at offices              opening/closing door, standing on chair, etc.,

       • on the street         slipped on ice, bitten by dog, etc.,

        • in occupations     handling tools, operating machinery, falls from equipment, physicians performing operations, etc.,

       • railway employees

       • miscellaneous      contact with gas at dentist, cut by beer glass while in saloon, etc.


Chapter 3 : Accidents to Railway Passengers, Employees, Trespassers, etc.

The author presents data from the 1899 report of the Railroad Commissioners of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts regarding fatal and non-fatal accidents to passengers, employees, trespassers, etc. The results illustrate the dangers in railroad work and operations.

Over the prior ten years the average number killed were:

       passengers              17

       employees              71

       at grade crossings  34

       trespassers              134

The data showed that one of every 88 employees had an accidental injury and 11% of those were fatal injuries.

The author included some data from the Interstate Commerce Commission for January 1900. There were 2,220 railway employees killed and 35,210 injured among 874,558 employees. The author states that “many injuries to railroad employees are not reported to the railroad commissioners. He also noted that the introduction of safety appliances, such as train brakes and better couplings, are reducing the injuries and accident insurance claims. He states the increase in heavier railroad equipment with higher load capacities that reduces the number of workers per ton of load are also reducing the claims.

Chapter 4: Accidents in Relation to Civic and Economic Obligations and Conditions

The author did some analysis on limited accident data from the states of Massachusetts and New York and from the United States (Recall that many government agencies in place today did not exist in 1900.).   After projecting the overall impact from census data, he concluded: “In a matter so dependent upon civic and economic conditions, and so affecting materially a large percent of citizens, it becomes the duty of both the State and United States governments to give the most careful attention to all matters relating to accidental injuries, and the cause and prevention thereof.”


Chapter 5: Comparison Between the Loss Caused by Fire and the Loss Caused by Accidents

In this chapter the author discusses fraud involving claims to insurance companies. He cites the Fire Marshall of Massachusetts. In 1895 there were 3,606 fires in the state. The Fire Marshall’s report states that five percent of the total number of Boston fires were incendiary, while outside of Boston, fourteen percent of fires were incendiary. The report also states that most of these were set to receive payment from an insurance claim and a small portion involved spite and revenge or simply irresponsible acts of individuals. The report also states that 40% of insurance-defrauding fires were by parties who previously collected on a fire claim.

In comparison, the author comments on the similar nature of injury-related claims that insurance companies faced. There are many fraudulent claims involving malingering and claims that actually stem from an existing medical condition or disease.

Chapter 6: Classification of Occupation and Exposures

The author discusses risks and exposures in accident insurance and the importance of sticking to the character of its classification system for a successful insurance business. He divides exposures into common and particular. Another important factor is the division of risk by occupation, with some companies dividing occupations into as many as 2,000 categories. In other cases, there is additional subdivision of risks. The premiums depend on the risks (He was far ahead of his time, since risk analysis
and risk management are a major focus of safety and health practices being insured today.)

Chapter 7: Application and Policy

For an accident insurance company, the language of a policy determines and defines the use of the word “accident.” The author explains that policy contracts introduced conditions for the purpose of excluding uninsurable hazards. Thus, many become very elaborate contracts that contain provisions that protect both the insured and the issuing company. The conditions also attempt to prevent fraudulent claims. He notes that a recent feature is indemnity for partial disability which expanded contract clauses and claims procedures.


Chapter 8: Claims and Benefits

This chapter reviews a variety of valid and invalid claims for accident insurance policies. The author explains that most valid claims get paid. A common invalid claim involves death or injury due to disease rather than accidental death or injury. Some involve invalid or erroneous medical certifications. Some death claims occur while engaged in an occupation or work not covered by the policy or in aggravation of old injuries.

In some cases, the company will offer a settlement below the insured amount in order to avoid the cost of litigation. Some cases involve self-inflicted injuries or invalid dates of injury falling outside the period covered by a policy. The author reviews such cases and the terms and procedures an insurance company uses to ensure valid claims. He notes how policies became more sophisticated over time.


Chapter 9: Laws in Reference to Prevention of Accidents

The author advocated for legislation to help prevent accidents in manufacturing, on streets and in buildings. He stressed that insurers cannot be the only promoters of protection of people. Others (employers, governments and others) with interests in these domains have a duty to protect people. He comments on a range of hazards to women and children at work, people in streets and other situations.

He reviews legislative action in Belgium, Britain, Switzerland, and German from 1871 to 1897 that expanded employer liability and increased protection for workers. The discussion provides numerous examples. He argued for the need for accident statistics in order to identify what protective actions are most needed. He refers to action at the state level (New York and Tennessee) and the use of factory inspectors to assure implementation of protections. The only reference to the federal level was railroad safety law.


Chapter 10: Different Forms of Accident Insurance

The final chapter is a brief review of the three form of accident insurance companies: stock, mutual (assessment), and fraternal. He contrasts accident insurance with life insurance. He reviewed aspects of government oversight of insurance companies.



This section of the book provides details regarding “What to do in Cases of Emergencies” and how to prevent and deal with a wide range of injuries.


Recent Decisions

This final section reviews nearly 40 decisions from state courts affecting accident insurance business.

Reviewer’s Side Note

An interesting quote from Chapter 9 regarding an early issue tackled by the medical profession and others:

“The profession of medicine can be justly credited with the great service it has rendered in securing laws of sanitation and health, prevention of disease, and control of epidemics.”

Many references in the late 1800s and early 1900s point to the application of these efforts to improve workplace sanitation in various ways as essential to workplace safety and health and the overall protection of the public. Today these practices are often taken for granted.

Pin It on Pinterest