GUEST BLOG: Simon Buckingham – Are ACC killing people?

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I do not like practicing ACC law. It is soul destroying, bashing your head against the ultimate bureaucracy in New Zealand. There is an honesty of purpose in criminal law, and due process that is adhered to in Employment Law, my other two areas of practice.

I have a client. Let’s call her Mrs X. She had a car accident in 2006 and suffered whiplash. Okay. People get over whiplash. Not her though sadly. She developed a chronic pain syndrome which is a psychological illness that happens sometimes. She was not supported properly by ACC so being a hard worker, went back to work despite not being fit really to do so.

In her new job, occasionally lifting bags of money, she aggravated her injury. The ACC claim was sent in stating an aggravation of the injury. ACC wrote back and said no. This was degenerative.

Degeneration is the ACC cover all when they do not want to pay. You have a back injury? Degeneration. You broke your leg? It was bound to happen as it is degeneration. I am exaggerating, but it sometimes feels like that. The case law says that if an injury is 80% or more degeneration, then it is not covered, However, with so called ‘Fairway” (Oxymoron alert), an ACC founded and until recent name changes, under DRSL, 100% ACC owned company, running all ACC reviews, what chance is there of showing previous ACC case Managers who conduct the Reviews that not everything in life is degeneration? I have had a few run-ins with Reviewers, and I know the job well. I used to be one myself. However, I did things like apply the law to cases. Not appreciated to say the least.

So there is Mrs X, unable to work, and being told it is degeneration when it clearly is not. She asked a firm to run the Review. Of course they lost. Hardly unbiased is it? There is a legal principle that you cannot be a Judge in your own Court. That is precisely what the Accident Compensation Act 2000 allows for. ACC conducts the Reviews themselves, despite being one of the Parties.

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After losing the Review, I picked up the case. It took years to get to Court. Halfway through, ACC changed their minds. Not degeneration at all. It was what is called causal nexus. That means that you have to show a link between accident and injury. The ACC Doctors say it was not related, whereas Mrs X’s Doctor was of the opposing view.

ACC Doctors. I know of one in particular who I have had several clients complain about to the Medical Council. The NZMC never seem to do anything, despite a fellow Lawyer seeing him and this ACC Doctor stating “How can we get you off ACC today?” They tend to be biased as can be, and frankly, I would rather see the hospital orderly than some of them!

With two Doctors unable to agree, when it got to Court, it was ruled (correctly when you consider the law), that ACC won. However, the Judge made it clear that ACC needs to sit down and negotiate with Mrs X. Judges do not usually say things like that, and it made it clear that she had a claim. However, it should have been a fresh claim and not a re-aggravation based upon the evidence.

ACC never negotiated. On my advice, Mrs X got her GP to put in a fresh claim. They sat on it till they were out of time, making it what is called a deemed decision. That means that they have taken so long that the person is covered automatically.

So. Mrs X is covered. What help did she receive, considering that the mental injury had led to two suicide attempts so far?
Nothing.
Not one little thing. They said that they would not backdate six years as they should, or give any help or treatment until they had a Psychiatric report. The fact that she was at risk was irrelevant. In the meantime, she had a further separate injury meaning that she could not attend to see the Psychiatrist. More delay.

Mrs X finally saw the Psychiatrist in November, after the Waitemata DHB did not follow up care around Mrs X. They would section her, and then release her. This is pretty common with CAT teams, and another story of incompetence in our system. Another article in the future maybe. Throughout the last part of this year, we hassled to get the report. On 19 December, we were finally sent a copy.

The report was dated 13 November, yet ACC claim that they only just got a copy. Be that as it may, we got a copy finally. Remember that this is an ACC appointed Doctor, who as a group are not known for their neutral approach. The Doctor stated that Mrs X is at risk of further self-harm in the medium to long term future. He also stated that there is no doubt that her psychiatric illness is due to the accident in 2006. Most worrying is the fact that Mrs X is considering harming her whole family. There are several people potentially at risk whilst ACC sit on this.

What does Mrs X want? All she wants right now, despite the arrears in support and weekly comp coming to about $300,000 – $400,000 is to see the Psychiatrist and get the help she needs. She wants the help to get well.

We now come to the title of this article. If Mrs X dies, I am of the opinion, as a Lawyer, that ACC could be liable to prosecution for manslaughter due to a breach in their duty of care. Let’s look at if the worst happens. Four people dead. ACC would wring their hands and say that there is no way that they could have predicted this, but this possibility has been predicted. I wrote an e-mail just before Christmas stating all of this. If Mrs X does anything tragic, I would say, here and now, whatever the cost to my professionalism, that ACC would be responsible for such a tragedy. They would have blood on their hands.

This extends to the Prime Minister and ACC Ministers as well. In desperation, Mrs X wrote to the Prime Minister. He flicked the letter on to the ACC Minister, who flicked it on to the Associate ACC Minister. In a letter dated 19 November 2014, we have the Associate ACC Minister stating that they could not help as it was an operational issue. Operational? A six year delay and refusing treatment with lives at risk is operational? If a tragedy happens, I would be calling for the resignation of the Ministers in question, and would be asking the Prime Minister why the hell he does not care about people desperate enough to write to him, but instead passes the letter on with his usual arrogance.

As such, I claim that Mrs X has a point when she says that she believes ACC are waiting for her to take her own life so that they do not have to pay. I think she may be right. The Prime Minister is relying on the $5 billion surplus with ACC to prop up the economy. If they have to pay hundreds of thousands to legitimate claims against ACC, how can they then support the corporates in New Zealand? If the worst happens, it is driven ultimately by the neoliberals worshipping the almighty dollar. Allowing someone to die for money is the worst possible neglect there can be in my personal view.

This article could cost my practicing certificate as a Lawyer. If it does, I do not care, as I would rather speak up to save a life or a few, than keep quiet and be complicit. I have made serious contentions here. I do not know if ACC have a more sinister reason for the delays apart from sheer incompetence, but it does look that way. If I go down, then so be it. If by going down some lives are saved, then it is worth it.

For any Mainstream media who read this, ACC have the waiver to discuss the matter, so get in touch with me, and we can go through this in detail, and with proof.

Finally, I ask all people of faith to intercede for Mrs X who read this, whatever you believe in. If you are not a person of faith, please send your thoughts of goodwill to her. I am scared for my client. She has given permission for me to disclose, though I will not do so as much as possible. However, this amazing woman and her supportive family need help, and ACC would rather see them die than fork up for the care and support needed.

Simon Buckingham is New Zealand’s first diagnosed Autistic Spectrum lawyer. He is a social justice activist and passionate about politics.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Greetings Simon.

    Magnificent courage. Terrible story, told in the upfront way the topic needs.We have been warned, and some of us will watch with you.

    Surely there have been many such cases, given what ACC has become and how it has been twisted and manipulated for so long. But this time it’s like a game of cards with all hands laid out on the table, face up. When the game is finished we will know which hands had blood on them.

    Tragically, this heroic woman could lose her life and take some with her, or you could go down, or both. But it won’t be quietly, able to be brushed off and hidden away like so many before.It will count – one more step towards the time when the excuses of the criminals in power no longer save them but become their undoing.How considerate of them to show their colours so clearly.

    This is the democracy our country needs, what no government can ever take away, and what really matters.

    Thank you.

  2. Finally, I ask all people of faith to intercede for Mrs X who read this, whatever you believe in. If you are not a person of faith, please send your thoughts of goodwill to her.

    Pardon? are you asking for prayer?

  3. Simon, I have a close friend who has been dealing with ACC for several years, and your story about Mrs X’s dealings and hers are very familiar.

    I despair for those who have to deal with such inhumanity at a time when they are vulnerable and need support. Thank for for your continued advocacy for those embroiled in such situations.

  4. ACC + Judith Collins Minister of ACC 12 December 2011 – 30 August 2014= lying scum surely ?

    I injured the discs along T one which is where ones shoulders intersect with ones neck bones .

    The dead faced ACC hit-man ( I kid you not . His face was completely without movement . Either from accident or illness . Poor guy etc but a perfect interrogator . ) and a squeamish , highly polished little ACC attack doctor told me , to my complete surprise , that I had a ‘ disease ‘ of the spine . The ACC Dr laboured over the word disease as if upon my hearing of my disease , I was expected to jump from his surgery window and end it all .

    Lets cut to the chase shall we . I have a simple mind so I like to keep things simple .

    We are forced to pay an ACC levy as an insurance against when we get injured due to an accident and we get reimbursed . That levy is the bulk of our Motor vehicle registration after all . For example, under the 2011/12 licence fees, a typical petrol car owner will pay $288 to re-licence their vehicle, of which $198 is the ACC levy.

    That’s a fucking swindle . The thieving cunts ! How dare they ! We had a perfectly healthy and efficient hospital system and I bet ! I bet those scum demolished our health system to create Big Pig Collin’s cash cow .

    That little arsehole ACC Dr sat across from me and told me I had a pre existing condition , so ” No . ” . I should have kicked the little fucker down the stairs .

    ACC and that other nest of greedy , lying , devious , cunning vipers, Public Trust, should be disbanded and their cash reserves returned to those most in need . Like hospital staff and Social Welfare who should administer rehabilitation and pay for costs . Not some dodgy , slippery corporation tits deep in our money and who lord it over us as if we’re irrelevant .

    Well done @ Simon Buckingham . You’re a brave soul .

    • Here here, insurance companies act this way, first to refuse on the principal that you will give up but don’t please as we all lose.

  5. Well, well, well, what a shocking story!

    All this talk about “improvements” at ACC, they do not seem to be such when reading this. And was there not one Paula Rebstock involved in “sorting out” issues at ACC? She has one reputation, and it is not a good one for those affected. She once also headed the “Welfare Working Group”, and then the “Work and Income Board”.

    See this:
    http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/rebstock-head-welfare-watchdog-panel-wb-118854

    Where she goes, bureaucracy and cost cutting rule, and “entitlements” are cut back or tightened. She was instrumental in much of the “reforms” that have happened under the last Nat led governments, and there will be more to come, with the “rewriting” of the Social Security Act.

    ACC have been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons again and again, and still now we have them apply bias and secretive, basically illegal practices. Especially complex cases as the ones described here, involving mental health aspects, were such they wanted to off-load by following the “exit strategy”.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNkN3DW1W6s

    And you can bet, that the “designated doctors” that WINZ use, are not much different, they have preferred ones, delivering the “outcomes” they want.

    So such cases get off-loaded from ACC where possible, and the persons shifted onto WINZ benefits, only to face further pressures and harassment.

    And let us wait what may come out re the sad incident in Ashburton.

    http://accforum.org/forums/index.php?/topic/15188-medical-and-work-capability-assessments-based-on-the-bps-model-aimed-at-disentiteling-affected-from-welfare-benefits-and-acc-compo/

    http://accforum.org/forums/index.php?/topic/15463-designated-doctors-%e2%80%93-used-by-work-and-income-some-also-used-by-acc/

    And the supposedly “independent” HDC is tied up into this nasty setup also:
    http://accforum.org/forums/index.php?/topic/14923-health-and-disability-commissioner/

  6. Of course, but what on earth did you people expect? This structural violence based on nothing at all but imposed artificial scarcity is an assault, and in form, a civil human rights violation. But sadly, the system simply can not operate any other way at this point of its evolution. That is the reality being blinkered out by most sadly. This system must strip life bases at every level in order to remain operational. It’s going to get much worse as this system continues to break down – just watch. And all because for some reason we have all fooled ourselves into believing that there just aren’t enough zeros and ones to go around! So, of course we have to fight with each other in order to survive while we play the Market Board Game of self-interest and differential advantage. It’s both hilarious and despairing. Why are we all chiselling off each other for some digits on screens and some colourful pieces of paper? This infantile childish stupidity is pathetic, and I am honestly ashamed to be a human at this point in our evolution. It’s like a bunch of 9 year-olds fighting over abundant toy blocks. The question has never been ‘do we have the money?’ The question has always been ‘do we have the resources?’ We do.

  7. These cowards, namely those involved with ACC itself, the Prime Minister John Key, the ACC Minister, the Acting ACC Minister, should all be brought forward and held accountable for their lack of responsibility. Or they should be charged with the most serious of charges that can be brought against them. It’s time people stood up and called out “Enough is enough of this corporate profiteering and manipulation”.

  8. Someone with a medical degree needs to do a case study on these ACC doctors and publish it. They are like the doctors who help administer lethal injections in the US and A. They would have been happy helping out at Gitmo.

    Thanks for what you do, Simon.

  9. Report every accident to ACC, its the only way to beat them.

    And if you have a Hernia, stop work immediately and seek treatment,
    do not continue working, or ACC will not cover it for an operation.

    ACC is now largely a tax surplus account for the Government, its has 18 Billion supposedly for long term claimants, who are been still being culled off it.

    And dont go to Workbridge, how many clients do they find work, I bet not a higher percentage than 20.

    Have a google how many ex police ACC hire, whose tenure as police are questionable.

  10. Im a Massage Therapist, any large impact especially to the neck, will end up being an injury if NOT treated asap. Osteopathy is wonderful. The trauma of the incident sits in the tissue not to mention any damage done physically to any of the structures such as the cervical neck as its so flimsy in comparison to the other spinal structures. Put this woman back to work with no treatment AND lifting heavy objects anything up to 10kilos and if she is twisting or over loading there will be problems, let alone ending up with this Psychological condition. ACC should invest more into treatments AFTER care. Pushing this. As a person you only have to pay $40 is the norm, and you can get lots of treatment 10-15 treatments THEN ask for an extension like I am currently doing with a back injury, from sport, then the long term costs to the public would decrease. I have had many clients that have been turned down when obviously its from an injury. I agree.
    However, on the other side, NZ is a country which needs to stop this culture of I cant take responsibility. I agree fully with the article, but if I were her I would of paid for a weekly Osteopath myself even if it meant putting it on the credit card, or a loan to do so. Its an investment in your health. You invest back into your health, even at full price, then you can go back to work (hopefully) and work for a long long time, and KEEP independent.

  11. Dear Mrs. X,

    I’m sorry. I have no other words than I’m sorry. I’m sorry you mean so little to a country that claims to care about its citizens.

    Pharmac also do this on the daily. You can only appeal a limited number of times before they shut off all contact with you. Then they will never, ever speak to you again.

    Blessed is he who is born wealthy — he will never know what it’s like to depend on the govt for health care.

  12. Good on you Simon.

    Shout, in the loudest of voices from the highest of rooftops.

    And do not let the bastards grind you down.

    In the meantime…there is an awesome therapist in the Waikato who has worked wonders with these types of injuries. Seriously, the man has the healing touch.

  13. This is a similar story to mine, sensitive claimant, fighting ACC for years, suicidal, destitute and being persecuted by police on a regular basis.

    If she is reading this please get hold of me on facebook or my website – I’m lobbying police at the moment to investigate my complaint of criminal negligence under Section 157 of the Crimes Act.

    I also protest repeatedly in Wellington and send lots of letters etc. I have been arrested dozens of times now and currently in court for defending wilful trespass charges of ACC and Ministry of Health. Got prosecuted for trespass of the Law Society – because I havn’t been able to get a lawyer.

    Check out my website and facebook page – we have got to stop this – please I don’t want to die, I’m a good person.

    Kia kaha to us all

    • You also frequently abuse people on Facebook and twitter – telling them they hope they get raped or that their child gets raped. I don’t think that makes you a good person Jayne.
      p.s. Simon was my lawyer once, and he’s lovely.

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