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Raft Of ACC Claims Beaches At High Court

Howard’s End – Raft Of ACC Claims Beaches At High Court

By Maree Howard

Scoop can reveal that the first of what looks set to become a raft of claims against ACC and current and former case managers is to be lodged in the High Court shortly claiming $300,000 in exemplary damages, $300,000 in general damages for distress, damages for money lost in following case managers instructions, interest and costs. Maree Howard writes.

For some time Scoop has been writing about how some claimants, lawyers, medical professionals, politicians and members of the public have become fed-up with ACC and its antics. The Sunday Star-Times newspaper and other news media have recently carried similar stories.

Many claimants were hoping the Transport and Industrial Relations Select-Committee responsible for ACC, the ACC Minister or ACC themselves would take their complaints and concerns more seriously and order a full and independent inquiry into ACC, but to no avail.

Last night Scoop was provided with a draft statement of claim which is being prepared for the High Court alleging the deliberate, irresponsible, malicious, and oppressive abuse of power and/or reckless indifference by ACC and five current and former case manager employees.

The statement of claim, at this point running to fifteen pages, alleges misfeasance in public office - and it makes horrifying reading.

The claim alleges in part that the case managers concerned held and were acting in the cause of public office and the claimant has always been under the supervision, direction and guidance of an ACC case manager and was instructed what to do under threat of losing weekly compensation if the instructions were not carried out to the letter.

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The claim also alleges that ACC and the case managers knew, or ought to have known, or showed reckless indifference, that they were acting outside the limits of their power deliberately causing the claimant damage and harm.

The High Court claim is not the result of the Transport select-committee's decision not to hold an inquiry into ACC but, rather, it has apparently been in the preparation stage for some months.

Scoop understands this is the first claim of such magnitude which is to be lodged against ACC and its case manager employees and will form part of what seems destined to become an eventual joint action involving eight further ACC claimants.

Scoop understands that three other law firms have also been looking at lodging claims in the High Court on behalf of their clients who are on ACC.

The last two reports to Parliament from the Ombudsmen have been critical of ACC and have reiterated the systemic failures since the 1994 ACC Trapski inquiry and report.

The current "exit" policy signed between the Minister and ACC which specifically targets long-term claimants for removal from the scheme for each ACC Branch is likely to come under serious scrutiny with indications that ACC Minister, Hon Ruth Dyson and ACC Chair, David Caygill, likely being called into Court to explain the "exit" policy and the reasons for needing to select a specific class of injured person to be dumped from a scheme which has the sole purpose for its existence being to help those people.

Scoop understands that ACC has an obligation to inform claimants whom it knows to be entitled to benefits and in need of benefits, and whom it knows to be failing to claim those benefits and, therefore, probably unaware of an entitlement.

The ACC case manager system was originally developed to improve case management techniques in order to provide better advice and assistance. Scoop has been told that if ACC fails to inform the claimant in an adequate way having regard to the stresses and distractions to which a claimant and their family would inevitably be subject from the accident and injury, a breach of the law can arise.

ACC also has an obligation to investigate a claim fairly and properly. Lawyers and claimants, and even a judge in the District Court in one ACC case, have said that ACC's investigative processes are totally deficient and claims are not being given fair consideration.

The subjective opinions of case managers, claimants allege, often interferes or takes precedence over expert evidence which, in some cases, is not even being obtained at all before decisions are made. The claimants say that the opinion of a case manager is not an "expert opinion or evidence" yet they seem to act as if they were experts and their opinions mean everything.

Also of concern to lawyers is that ACC does not keep statistics about what happens to claimants after they have been dumped from the scheme and whether they reside on a WINZ sickness or invalid's benefit.

There has been a rapid rise in people claiming those types of WINZ benefit. Lawyers say they are likely to be ACC claimants who have been "exited" from their lawful weekly compensation entitlements and who rightfully belong on the accident insurance scheme.

So keen is ACC to dump its claimants that it's alleged ACC blatantly tells them to contact WINZ and, in one case Scoop has been told about, an ACC case manager is alleged to have offered to drive a claimant to the WINZ office even though the claimant is said to have an unfit for work certificate which he is obliged to give to ACC every 13 weeks.

Some lawyers are saying the time has come to stop demonising, discrediting and punishing claimants. It's time to expose rogue behaviour and hold ACC and its employees to account in the public Courts.

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