Otago University law professor Andrew Geddis was doubtful about Susan Couch's prospects of winning her decade-long battle for damages from the Department of Corrections in court, because of the tough legal tests that must be met. He is glad she hasn't had to and regards the department's decision to settle her claim as "the just and right result".
The department confirmed on Thursday it would pay $300,000 to Ms Couch, the sole survivor of an attack at the Panmure RSA in which three people were murdered by William Bell, who was on parole for aggravated robbery. Ms Couch was left for dead, partially paralysed and brain damaged by the battering.
She brought a $500,000 negligence case against the department, essentially maintaining the attacks and her injuries resulted from the probation service's failure to properly supervise and monitor Bell. The service had found work for him in the RSA despite his alcohol problems and propensity for violence and theft.
Recent reports on a major privacy breach at ACC will help overcome problems with a controversial claimant consent form and restore fair play, Dunedin ACC campaigner Dr Denise Powell believes.
Many claimants had begun to feel they were part of an "underclass", which was not receiving the same privacy rights as their fellow citizens.
"We've been dehumanised and reduced to a client number," she said.
Is it time for the ACC to adopt more of an insurance underwriter's approach to pricing its levies on the private car fleet?
ACC is tasked with running an effective accident compensation system, but also with doing it fairly, and using its position to reduce injuries and deaths.
Well, a tool it has to do that is to put a higher price on behaviour that is statistically strongly linked to car crashes and their financial cost.
Change would revise social welfare radically.
Sir Geoffrey Palmer can be relied upon to make a stimulating contribution to a conference. Speaking on the subject of accident compensation this week he said the scheme should be extended to cover disease and congenital disabilities to address a "longstanding injustice". He was referring to the difference between welfare benefits for sickness or disability and earnings-related compensation for injury. As the Disability Rights Commissioner, Paul Gibson, put it, "If you were to pick how you were to become disabled you'd choose an accident."
Sir Geoffrey was reviving an issue that was alive 45 years ago when the scheme was devised by the Woodhouse commission. Sir Owen Woodhouse clearly intended the scheme to be extended eventually to disease, said Sir Geoffrey, who had a hand in the commission's 1967 report. But neither the National government that set up ACC in 1971, nor subsequent governments of either party have seriously entertained the idea.
Meddling ministers and overzealous case managers are undermining ACC.
Once upon a time, accident victims had to go through a long, complicated legal process to obtain compensation, with the possibility of an arbitrary and unfair outcome. In 1967 a Royal Commission chaired by Owen Woodhouse recommended an alternative that focused on remedies rather than causes and made accident prevention a priority. Today our Accident Compensation Corporation is the envy of much of the world (excluding lawyers who lost their outrageous fees from the old scheme). It is not perfect, of course – nothing is – but the imperfections gave politicians, pressured by special interests, an excuse for meddling.
Big business has grumbled about its cost, but that has been largely addressed by the Accredited Employer Scheme. More recently, the private insurance industry has wanted to be involved. A hyperactive minister began preparing the way for partial privatisation, but the insurance industry aside, there was no enthusiasm; it would have worsened the scheme. All the meddling has damaged the scheme’s reputation. What New Zealanders want after an accident is early rehabilitation and, where that is not possible, fair compensation. A system that minimises accidents would also be desirable. And no one wants to pay excessive levies or see anyone ripping the scheme off by making unreasonable demands.
ACC Minister Judith Collins seems laudably willing to allay suspicions about the independence of some doctors hired to assess the health of corporation clients and claimants. Those suspicions were reinforced by Green Party MP Kevin Hague's disclosures that the ACC pays four doctors - whom he named - up to $2 million a year “for services rendered”.
The volume of work and fees suggested to Mr Hague that ACC could rely on the doctors to deliver assessments favourable to meeting its target of reducing long-term clients.
Recollections have been stirred of Judge Peter Trapski, almost two decades ago, advising ACC what he uncovered during an inquiry he conducted at its behest. He found a psychiatrist had been used as the corporation's "hitman" by staff fed up with clients "ripping off the system". He recommended medical opinions be independent and be seen to be independent.