Mother's despair as ACC fight lost

Last updated 13:19 25/11/2013
Coral Waitere
Fairfax NZ
DESPONDENT: Coral Waitere is 'gutted' she has lost a High Court battle with ACC after she suffered a severe electric shock in 2005 after an electrician left her house unearthed.

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After Coral Waitere had a new oven installed, she filled up the sink to do some dishes.

But the electrician who set up the oven had left the house unearthed, so when she turned on the tap she was blasted across the kitchen by 240 volts of electricity.

The current that surged through her body blew a hole just below her lip where it exited.

Temporarily paralysed, burnt and left with brain injuries, Waitere was unable to work after the 2005 accident while she was living in Nelson.

But because she was unemployed at the time, she was not eligible for weekly compensation from ACC.

She is one of six ACC claimants, some of who were sexually abused as children, who have lost their legal battle against the corporation.

The group took their case to the High Court, but were turned down by Justice Stephen Kos, although he said that the outcomes under the ACC Act were "unquestionably anomalous".

Under the act, only individuals who are employed at the time of their injury are entitled to full weekly compensation. They are still eligible for treatment costs.

People injured as children are eligible for a reduced weekly compensation sum based on a loss of potential earnings.

Three of the four injured as children receive this compensation, but believe they should be entitled to the full amount.

The two claimants who were injured as adults receive no weekly compensation at all, including Waitere, who was injured the day before she was due to start work after taking time off to raise her children.

She said the High Court decision, and the others ruling against her during four years of legal action, had "made me want to cry". She had been "burnt from the inside out" after being shocked, but had been forced to go on the benefit after being denied compensation.

Another of the claimants, who was sexually and physically abused by her ex-husband, said ACC had cut off her compensation in February.

It made life extremely tough for her and her three children, who had also suffered abuse, she said.

Lawyer John Miller, who represented the group, said it was ridiculous that children who were injured while not working could be in a situation where they were denied adequate compensation for life.

In essence, Justice Kos was saying the act was unfair, and that such a situation would never be allowed in the private insurance industry, he said.

While preparing for the case, he looked through the transcripts of debates and select committee hearings related to drafting the act, and no discussions had taken place about the potential problems arising from this clause.

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ACC Minister Judith Collins said the eligibility criteria of the act were designed to apply to a wide range of circumstances.

There were special provisions to deal with unique situations when the rules were not appropriate, and the eligibility criteria would be reviewed next year.

"The eligibility criteria are challenged from time to time where applying the law may be considered unfair to claimants.

"I take issues of unfair treatment very seriously, and pay close attention to these issues when they arise."

- The Nelson Mail

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