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Study on asbestos-related disease welcomed

5 November 2004

ACC welcomes Medical Journal study on asbestos-related disease under-reporting

ACC has welcomed as “timely” a New Zealand Medical Journal study indicating that hundreds more people may have died from workplace asbestos-related diseases than identified in official statistics.

ACC says the findings provide a good guide to doctors that they should look more closely at causes when examining patients suffering forms of lung cancer, and medical practitioners should not assume that smoking is necessarily to blame.

The ACC scheme provides coverage for asbestos-related diseases but only if they are found to be workplace-related.

ACC says if there has been under-reporting of workplace asbestos-related diseases, as suggested by the New Zealand Medical Journal study by Dr Pam Smartt, then it is even more important that there be legal clarity around who is entitled to lump sum compensation for workplace asbestos-related diseases.

ACC was recently granted leave to clarify the law in a High Court test case over whether lump sums can be paid on asbestos-related work injuries for exposure before 1 April 2002—when lump sum compensation was re-introduced—and has now filed an appeal.

The Corporation had been ordered to pay nearly $100,000 lump sum compensation following a ruling earlier this year by the District Court in favour of the estate of the late Ross Lehmann.

ACC Chairman David Caygill says an urgent hearing was sought because the District Court ruling cuts across the Government’s intention to make 1 April 2002 the start date for lump sum compensation claims.

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“Parliament’s intention clearly was that people who suffered a personal injury before 1 April 2002 when the current ACC legislation came into force would not receive a lump sum,” he says. “The question that the High Court needs to determine is whether, as ACC believes, this clear rule applies to people in the claimant’s circumstances.”

ACC Chief Executive Garry Wilson says the law needs to be clarified as soon as possible so dozens of potential claimants are left in no doubt whether or not they can get lump sum payments.

“We all have sympathy for those involved in the Estate Lehmann case, and it is unfortunate that such a personal tragedy for the family has been made all the more difficult by legal differences of opinion,” says Mr Wilson.

“We didn’t take this course of action hastily,” he says. “We carefully considered external legal opinions and have been given expert views that are contrary to that taken by the District Court Judge in the Estate Lehmann case.”

He says ACC is sometimes criticised for taking a firm line in these cases, but needs to know what the law means so ACC can implement it appropriately.


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