Mother with Down syndrome son wins right to sue ACC

The woman's lawyer said ACC's failure to support her son had left her struggling financially.
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The woman's lawyer said ACC's failure to support her son had left her struggling financially.

A mother whose son has Down syndrome has won the right to sue ACC in what will be a landmark case.

She is fighting the corporation to cover her personal financial losses, which she suffered after becoming a full-time carer.

John Miller, a personal injury lawyer who specialises in ACC claims, isn't surprised the corporation is fighting her claim tooth and nail.

"It will be a tough case to win," he said. "But if it succeeds, it will open up liability for lots of families."

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The woman's son was relatively high functioning as a child, and attended mainstream classes at primary school.

However he was segregated at the age of eight after he began to exhibit inappropriate sexual behaviour.

When he was 16 he revealed that he had been sexually abused as a child by a family member, who was subsequently convicted.

He was later diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder resulting from the abuse.

The teen lived at a care facility for 10 years until he was 24 before moving back to live with his mother in 2004. It was decided he'd be better living with her as she could provide a safe and consistent environment.

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ACC provided some support, but the mother insisted it did not go far enough; Miller explains that's a common sentiment among those who have to deal with ACC.

"Often the amount they pay for attendant care doesn't take into account the full-time work the family are called upon to put into caring for such a person," he said.

The mother claims she suffered financially and lost her business and home because all her time was spent caring for her son.

The corporation debated with her for several years over how much of his care needs were caused by his PTSD.

ACC refused to help her secure compensation payments, and also refused to pay for transport so the young man could attend scheduled group activities.

A neuropsychological assessment in 2007 found he needed more care than would be normal for someone with Down syndrome, due in part to the PTSD. ACC did not challenge a reviewer's decision that it had been wrong.

The mother now wants the corporation to pay up for the financial hardship she suffered while caring for her son.

Her lawyer said that ACC's failure to provide her with entitlements had a serious knock-on effect on the family's overall financial wellbeing.

Miller is dubious about whether the mother will get the payment she's seeking.

"Frankly, I don't think it has a great chance of success," he said. "But if they do win, then wonderful."

ACC has already tried to have the legal action thrown out, but that was rejected by Justice Patricia Courtney in the High Court at Auckland.

The civil case will now proceed.

 - Stuff

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