ACC admits 'despicable' treatment of Christchurch claimant
A Tiwai smelter worker has received an extraordinary apology from ACC for what it admits was "despicable" treatment of him over a period of over three decades.
Christchurch man Hugh Donald, 68, developed asthma while working at the smelter between 1978 and 1983, when he supervised pots of molten aluminium without appropriate protection from fumes and alumina dust.
Donald lost 30 per cent of the capacity of his lungs when they were poisoned by toxic fumes in the late 1970s.
Now, 36-years later, Donald had been given two separate payments of $10,000 and an apology, but said he wanted an independent review of his case and to protect others from being badly treated by the ACC.
Just weeks after he started the job in 1978 he began having coughing fits, and struggled to breathe. Doctors told him it was just a cough and cold.
Donald made his first claim to ACC in 1981 after being diagnosed with asthma – he quit the job for the good of his health in 1983.
Since then, he says he has suffered 80 life-threatening asthma attacks, spending many nights in hospital.
Donald said he was made to prove his asthma had developed as a result of his workplace and that it wasn't a pre-existing condition before his claim was accepted.
"You've got a tight chest and you're struggling to breathe and....until whatever medication kicks in it's like someone has got a belt and it's tightening around your chest. You can't get the air in."
Donald says his relationship with ACC soured quickly, and the ongoing battle had brought him close to suicide two years ago.
He said ACC had refused to pay his medical costs, underpaid him his weekly compensation, stopped his payments without explanation and failed to pay for medical services or his medication such as a nebuliser and St John Ambulance fees, he said.
In 1982, ACC issued an internal memo about Donald written by the ACC controller stating he was a "classic example of someone trying to make the most he can out of his disability".
"I think his main problem is to determine how much he can screw out of the corporation by way of lump sum compensation."
Donald said after one hospital stay in 1999 his weekly compensation payments had virtually stopped.
He ended up lashing out when a branch manager refused to meet with him to explain and he hurled a bucket of pig manure around the Dunedin office.
At the time, he said: "You have given me s... for the last 19 years – you've given me too much and I brought some back".
"They could see I was distressed and they made me stand around for 45 minutes
In August 2015, Donald found ACC had deposited $10,000 into his account without explanation.
The ACC admitted this year that their treatment of him had been "despicable".
In March, Donald met with ACC's Southern area central manager Darren Vaeluaga and he acknowledged the poor treatment of Donald.
He said the deposit of $10,000 in August 2015 was "in consideration for the hurt and harm ACC has caused you throughout your claim.
Vaeluaga wrote in meeting minutes "one staff member seemed intent on continuing to frustrate and anger you."
"I considered this behaviour despicable and I acknowledged that we (ACC) did not treat you well at all, we did not listen to you, and we were absolutely wrong to have treated you that way."
Vaeluaga admitted staff had refused to engage with Donald and acted "completely inappropriately".
He offered Donald a further $10,000 to cover legal expenses resulting from the pig poo incident and as an acknowledgement of his own actions.
Donald said the apology and offer of compensation was not enough to make up for his treatment and he wanted his story heard by an independent mediator as he had lost trust in the organisation.
"ACC need to acknowledge publicly what they are doing to not just me but a lot of people, they have to acknowledge it ...and they have to be brought to account."
An ACC spokesman said ACC has agreed to mediation and acknowledged Donald had been treated poorly.
"ACC acknowledges that in the past we badly managed Mr Donald's claim, and failed to provide him with support and assistance of a standard that he could rightly expect, and that ACC itself would expect".