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Injured Kiwi denied ACC compo

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 05:00 13/04/2014

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A wealthy businessman who was paralysed after suffering the bends during a diving trip overseas is unable to get ACC compensation.

An ACC legal expert says the case is a cautionary tale for people injured while holidaying or working abroad.

Business investor Bryson Richards missed out on an ACC payout because his holiday stretched 10 days beyond the six-month limit.

Richards recently argued in the Wellington District Court he went abroad to invest $1.6 million in business ventures, not for an extended holiday.

Under ACC provisions, those working overseas and paying tax in New Zealand can still qualify for compensation if they've been out of the country longer than six months.

District Court judge Denese Henare declined his appeal for ACC cover after finding the sailing trip through the Philippines and Indonesia was primarily a vacation.

Lawyer John Miller said: "If you're going overseas you have to be careful. You better have travel insurance."

His law firm, which specialises in ACC claims and represented Richards, sees many similar cases.

If someone was injured while holidaying overseas for more than six months, they would not get ACC no matter how needy the situation, he said.

Similarly, the multitude of Kiwis who worked in Australian mines might be denied help.

"They are treated like second-class citizens if they come back to New Zealand," Miller said.

Richards lost consciousness during a diving trip off an Indonesian island in August, 2009. He suffered diver's paralysis - the bends - leaving him a quadriplegic.

Without ACC cover, he does not qualify for extra benefits, including wheelchair modifications to his home and extra support.

Richards, who declined to comment, must rely solely on the public health system.

On the flip side, ACC expert Ben Thompson, of Hazel Armstrong Law, said people might not realise they qualified for cover if injured during holidays of less than six months. In that circumstance, people can claim under both travel insurance and ACC.

"The rights under ACC will often go much further than what you get under a travel insurance policy, especially if you are like most Kiwis and get the most basic and cheapest insurance."

Lawyer Hazel Armstrong said ACC must balance the rights of those injured in New Zealand and those who were overseas.

"It's like insurance, you've got to be paying levy fees in to get money out," she said. "The problem with this guy, he wasn't paying the levies."

AM I COVERED OVERSEAS?

You can usually get ACC cover once you return, no matter how you're injured.

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Cover applies for those on holiday, travelling on business, completing their OE, or visiting friends or family.

Holiday-goers must not intend to be away longer than six months.

If travelling on business and paying income tax in New Zealand you may be covered past the six-month mark.

What is covered?

Injuries including wounds, lacerations, sprains, strains, fractures.

Cover may also be available for injuries caused by medical treatment, the mental effects of a sexual assault or work-related health problems.

What does cover include?

NZ medical bills, home-care, cover for lost earnings, transport.

Serious injuries may qualify for a lump sum payout.

What is not covered?

Illness, overseas medical bills and disrupted travel plans.

- Sunday Star Times

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