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Asbestos – the Silent Killer


From Acclaim Support Groups NZ Network

(Supporting ACC Claimants)


Asbestos – the Silent Killer

'Cowboys' are killing us, say Accident Compensation claimant support groups as they struggle to come to terms with a High Court decision last week that favours the Accident Compensation Corporation.

Late last week the Wellington High Court issued a decision upholding ACC’s appeal against a District Court decision that granted Mr. Lehmann, and others with a similar affliction, a $100,000 lump sum payment pursuant to the Injury Prevention Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2001 for asbestos-related injuries. Unfortunately Mr. Lehman subsequently died as a direct result of his injury, which adds to the misery of his surviving family.

The District Court had previously held that claimants suffering from the horrific effects of asbestos-related injuries where entitled to a lump sum payout. However, the High Court decided otherwise, stating in its decision that affected claimants were not entitled to a lump sum payment and were only eligible for a $67 per week independence allowance. The Judge went on to say that the remedy would have to be an amendment to the legislation.

But claimant support groups say if people dying from asbestos or other toxic poisonings can be denied fair lump sum compensation under the Accident Compensation scheme then a right to sue for damages should immediately be restored in New Zealand, or ACC should sue manufacturers of 'dodgy' products for reckless endangerment on behalf of injured people under its obligations to prevent injuries and to protect public funds.

The ACC no-fault scheme came into force in 1974, which required people injured by accident to give up their right to sue for damages in exchange for fair compensation and comprehensive rehabilitation.

Acclaim Canterbury president, Murray Jorgensen said the dangers of asbestos have been known since the 1950's when cases started to come before the English Court of Appeal, particularly the successful Royal Naval Dockyard case. However, it appears little was done in New Zealand in the 1970's or 80's by manufacturers, employers or ACC to avoid human suffering and promote safety programmes, Mr. Jorgensen said.

From 1974, ACC was legally bound to take an active and co-ordinating role in the promotion of safety in all the different areas where accidents can occur in New Zealand to avoid human suffering and prevent wastage of manpower and so assist efficiency and productivity.

Mr. Jorgensen said we can see no evidence where ACC developed close working relationships with industry, commerce, Government departments, local authorities, and other bodies or organisations in promoting safety or preventing personal injury by accident

We can see no evidence where ACC joined with the Standards Council or other appropriate authority to support or recommend legislation, regulations, by-laws and codes of practice to promote safety and to prevent personal injury by accident, he said.

What has been allowed to happen in these asbestos cases flies in the face of the justifications when New Zealander's gave up their right to sue for damages. It has to be fixed by Government immediately moving to amend the legislation, Mr. Jorgensen said.

People like Mr. Lehmann were left out on a limb to ultimately suffer an untimely, horrendous death.

It remains to be seen whether or not ACC will demand its money back from the 26 people who have already received their compensation – shedding crocodile tears in the process.


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