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Courts increase double dipping from accidents

Tuesday, July 12th, 2005

Courts increase double dipping from accidents

Employers are becoming alarmed by the rapid increase in reparation awards being made by the courts to victims of workplace accidents.

The Employers & Manufacturers Association (Northern) says an award of $195,000 in June more than doubled the previous maximum but increasing the pay outs won't make workplaces safer.

"By increasing the level of payout orders, the courts are usurping the role of the ACC, said Paul Jarvie, EMA's Manager of Occupational Health & Safety.

"Making reparation orders like this, on top of the lump sums and other payments by ACC, amounts to double dipping and a lottery for accident victims.

"People injured at work, or anywhere else, are often entitled to lump sums from ACC.

"Then, a lottery may swing into effect if OSH investigates and decides to prosecute. If OSH doesn't prosecute, no reparation can be paid. But if OSH does prosecute, and wins the case, the courts have the option of awarding reparation or not.

"Is this double dipping and lottery what our society wants? We don't think so.

"New Zealanders gave up the right to sue for injuring or accidentally killing each other with the introduction of ACC in 1974. The social contract struck was that the state would guarantee compensation and entitlements instead of endless litigation in the courts.

"If our society believes ACC payments are insufficient they should be increased thought the ACC system.

"The situation is not helped by the CTU's constant bleating from the sidelines for harsher penalties; its contribution on this issue is woeful and misguided because higher reparations and fines won't make workplaces safer.

"If reparations keep rising, employers will move to insure against the risk of them, with more hard fought legal battles in the offing. Only the lawyers will win. (Business can insure against reparations though not against fines).

"The fatal accident on board a commercial fishing boat that led to the record reparation order last month was very sad. Everyone will sympathise with the victim's family, but increasing payouts and fines don't make workplaces safer.

"Government should also consider the risks to itself from this. If the Cave Creek tragedy occurred today on the same basis, the taxpayer would have been liable to compensate victims' families with millions of dollars.

"Only safer work systems, non acceptance of second best, and attention to constant improvement will lead to better long term outcomes."

ENDS

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