With the tightening up of the ACC system and the many changes that have been brought about within it, ACC is a minefield like few others. It is an area where the most vulnerable and afflicted are
forced to be constantly on their toes in case they do or say something which is taken to be a sign of negativity or reluctance to be rehabilitated. In our experience, ACC claimants are usually
very genuine people who would love to work full-time if they could and don’t wish to be a drain on the taxpayer. ACC has been a very successful scheme and is far cheaper than the common law
systems which rely on the lottery of litigation to compensate some handsomely while others can’t make the proof or the wrongdoer is not worth suing.
In areas such as whether disabilities are linked to accident-type conditions (or occupational progressive conditions), there is a need for good medical evidence to establish the link. That can often be very expensive and it may be preferable for claimants to see a lawyer so that they may apply for legal aid and not only have legal costs paid but also the expensive disbursements paid for the expert opinion. If successful at an ACC review, then there is provision for reimbursement of those costs by ACC. It may be that any repayment of legal aid will be quite small because review costs will have been paid.
Another area is the vocational independence area where ACC, in quite a finicky way, obtains the opinions of certain professionals regularly in ACC’s employ, who provide opinions that quite disadvantaged and disabled people are theoretically able to work 30 hours per week in certain occupational types.
Obviously those jobs would never be offered to the claimants in the real world but, it is enough if, in theory, the claimant could do the job. If so, then the claimant will be kicked off ACC’s books. Again, good occupational physician experts are needed to rebut the ACC experts as to whether such claimants are truly able to work “full-time” as the ACC experts say they are. Legal advice is essential to ensure that the expert opinion is marshalled properly and that the necessary submissions are made as to the real limitations upon the claimant and why the particular job types identified are not within the claimant’s reach for 30 hours per week.
Also, there is a surprising lack of awareness of ACC entitlements and, wherever possible, when we meet with our clients, we will try to pick up any lateral conversations about possible claims such as clients having been dismissed from their work because of incapacity or where there are sensitive claims from childhood issues that have never been properly addressed and which lead to behaviour that brings the clients into contact with the legal system.
We try to maintain a holistic approach to our practice to take in our clients’ needs across the board, as well. That is, we try to listen to our clients’ stories and not just to address the particular legal problem presented to us. Often, it is a case of addressing the life issues which a particular client may have. Obviously, we don’t have all the answers but we certainly know a number of good referral agencies and counselling services which can help.