From Lawrence M. Friedman's A History of American Law:
These accidents were the raw material of possible lawsuits. Litigation was costly, but lawyers took cases on contingent fees. If the case was lost, the lawyer charged nothing; if he won, he took a huge slice of the gain. The upper part of the bar looked with beady eyes at this practice, "most often met with in suits for alleged negligent injuries." Thomas Cooley thought they were beneath contempt: "mere ventures," no better than "a lottery ticket." They debased the bar, brought "the jury system into contempt," and horror of horrors, helped create "a feeling of antagonism between aggregated capital on the one side and the community in general on the other." But the contingent fee had its merits. A poor man could sue a rich corporation. By 1881, the contingent fee was said to be an "all but universal custom of the profession."
Neither the number of accidents nor the contingent fee system, in itself, can completely explain the rise in litigation. To justify taking risks, and to make a living, the lawyer had to win at least some of the cases. [...]
Small wonder, then, that the law of industrial accidents grew monstrously large. In 1894, William F. Bailey published a treatise on "The Law of the Master's Liability for Injuries to Servants"; the text ran to 543 pages. "No Branch of the law," Bailey wrote in the preface, was "so fraught with perplexities to the practitioner." The law was wildly nonuniform, full of "unpardonable differences and distinctions." This meant that, by 1900, the rule had lost some of its reason for being. It was no longer an efficient device for disposing of accident claims. It did not have the courage of its cruelty, nor the strength to be humane. It satisfied neither capital nor labor. It siphoned millions of dollars into the hands of lawyers, court systems, administrators, insurers, claims adjusters. Companies spent and spent, yet did not buy industrial harmony -- and not enough of the dollars flowed to the injured workmen.