Court rejects man's bid to restore ACC payments

Last updated 05:00 17/05/2013

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A Hutt Valley man who was filmed walking around a supermarket while claiming he needed a wheelchair has lost a battle to get his ACC payments back.

Wiremu Brightwell had appealed against a 2010 ACC decision, stripping him of his disability allowance.

But in Wellington District Court Judge David Ongley found he "probably wilfully exaggerated his symptoms and presented a severe disability that was not caused by his covered personal injury".

Up until 2010, Mr Brightwell had cover for an injury from 1993, when he was hit on the side of his head by an exploding tyre and rim.

ACC medical adviser Martin Robb examined him in 2010, and told ACC that, in his opinion, Mr Brightwell was "malingering".

"He did not appear to be in pain, but on entering the surgery in his wheelchair appeared to be very moribund, unable to operate the controls of his wheelchair," Dr Robb said.

"Despite his apparently moribund state, he was able to answer questions quickly and appropriately with a clear but quiet voice."

Although Mr Brightwell claimed to be largely bedridden, he had "good musculature with no sign of muscle wasting".

A staff member reported that Mr Brightwell looked much more alert before seeing Dr Robb.

Mr Brightwell was represented in court by his former wife, who argued that doctors had given him excessive dosages of a painkiller, which incapacitated him.

Last year, ACC tried unsuccessfully to prosecute Mr Brightwell for benefit fraud. It obtained footage of him walking around in a Wairarapa supermarket, when he was being paid a wheelchair disability allowance.

However, Judge Bill Hastings dismissed the case, saying Mr Brightwell's condition meant he could walk at times.

"ACC failed to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the clips showed malingering, as distinct from selected activity on good days that was within a range of symptomatology supported by other evidence". Mr Brightwell pressed on with his own legal action, appealing against ACC's 2010 decision to stop payments.

Judge Ongley has now dismissed that appeal.

"Certainly, Mr Brightwell has suffered a great deal of pain in the 20 years since his injury, but medical opinions and other investigations now suggest he is much fitter than he cares to admit," the judge said.

Mr Brightwell could not be reached for comment.

An ACC spokesman said it accepted Judge Ongley's finding.

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- The Dominion Post

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