New Zealand Law Society - Researchers call for an ACC commissioner and help for those missing out

Researchers call for an ACC commissioner and help for those missing out

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Researchers are calling for an independent commissioner to oversee the ACC system and ensure that “hundreds of thousands” of injured people whose claims are declined each year by ACC, get help.

The research, which has been supported by the Law Foundation and the University of Otago Legal Issues Centre, has rubbished the ACC’s estimate that 70,000 New Zealanders are denied cover and treatment annually, saying that the real figure is between 200,000 and 300,000.

The research calls for changes to the way ACC determines injury causation. The authors say that ACC’s narrow, legalistic application of the causation tests, which determines whether ACC will help someone, is shutting out many legitimate claimants and shifting costs to injured people and other institutions.

“The complexity of ‘causation’ as a legal test means that it is applied inconsistently with lots of room for misunderstandings and errors,” the report says.   

Lead author and barrister Warren Forster says the system isn’t working for many.

“We are at a tipping-point in how our society deals with injured people,” he says.

“We have lots of personal injury services, but they are not working as they should because injured people don’t know how to navigate them.

“Our report discusses changes needed to redress the balance - the question is whether the political leadership is there for the change, or whether this report will end up in the too-hard basket.”  

ACC should reflect what New Zealanders expect it to do

ACC’s injury causation tests are inherently arguable and difficult to apply, the authors say, but unsuccessful claimants who challenge ACC’s decisions find themselves pitted against a huge, billion-dollar specialist Crown agency. This undermines the original intent of the scheme and the problems it sought to solve.

“ACC is currently trying to change what New Zealanders expect from it. But our report concludes that it should be other way around – we should change ACC to make sure it does what New Zealanders expect it to do. This will better help injured people and, in the long run, it will reduce the economic, social, and personal costs of injury to society,” Mr Foster says.

The authors, who include Tom Barraclough and Tiho Mijatov, have drafted legislative amendments to the Accident Compensation Act and a Personal Injury Commissioner Bill. 

The ACC said its decisions were based on expert medical advice and it denied applying the law about the cause of injuries too narrowly.

Its chief executive, Scott Pickering, told RNZ’s Morning Report programme he knew the scheme could be difficult to navigate for both staff and customers.