Editorial: ACC fight lies ahead

Last updated 10:12 08/12/2012

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Otago University law professor Andrew Geddis was doubtful about Susan Couch's prospects of winning her decade-long battle for damages from the Department of Corrections in court, because of the tough legal tests that must be met. He is glad she hasn't had to and regards the department's decision to settle her claim as "the just and right result".

The department confirmed on Thursday it would pay $300,000 to Ms Couch, the sole survivor of an attack at the Panmure RSA in which three people were murdered by William Bell, who was on parole for aggravated robbery. Ms Couch was left for dead, partially paralysed and brain damaged by the battering.

She brought a $500,000 negligence case against the department, essentially maintaining the attacks and her injuries resulted from the probation service's failure to properly supervise and monitor Bell. The service had found work for him in the RSA despite his alcohol problems and propensity for violence and theft.

Equally determined to avoid paying exemplary damages, the department has reportedly spent almost $500,000 in a shamefully heavy-handed legal action to thwart her.

Credit is due to those who championed her cause, most notably Garth McVicar, from the Sensible Sentencing Trust, and her lawyer, Brian Henry. Mr Henry has argued her case in the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court (according to the National Business Review) without charging her a cent.

The battle for a fair deal isn't over. ACC compensation is the next objective, because Ms Couch was working only part-time when she was attacked. But the law must be changed for the ACC to be unshackled from strict requirements to consider income when paying compensation.

Perhaps she should add Bronwyn Pullar to her team. Ms Pullar was the woman who brought ACC privacy breaches to light, triggering investigations that identified deficiencies in how ACC was being run.

ACC's chairman and chief executive resigned, as did ACC Minister Nick Smith. But getting the law changed to inject a commonsense element of flexibility looks a less formidable task than having so many heads roll.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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