Nine years of suffering 'exacerbated by ACC'

By Martin Johnston

Diane Smith's serious fall in 2003 led to the amputation of her lower left leg six years later but she's had a long battle for ACC entitlements. 
Photo / Brett Phibbs
Diane Smith's serious fall in 2003 led to the amputation of her lower left leg six years later but she's had a long battle for ACC entitlements. Photo / Brett Phibbs

A badly injured Aucklander whose lower left leg was amputated later found out that accident compensation officials wanted to influence independent rehabilitation assessments to limit the help she was given.

Diane Smith, 53, said she had to battle the Accident Compensation Corporation and its occupational therapist assessors at virtually every step.

"It's disgusting. It's mind-blowing and depressing. There is no reason for people to be cruel, nasty and soul-destroying."

Mrs Smith fell on the broken steps of a Palmerston North cafe in 2003, suffering multiple fractures in her ankle and a dislocated knee. A surgeon repaired the ankle but the screw and plate used were too long.

"The screw wound its way through the ankle while I was doing physio and blew it apart."

Toxic shock developed because of blood-flow problems in the damaged ankle and Mrs Smith's lower leg had to be amputated in 2009 to save her life. She also developed problems in a shoulder after a long period on crutches.

She has had several artificial legs but only in December was given one that fitted properly. Before that, her prosthetics were "a joke".

"They would fall off in the street. Twice it happened. I always had someone with me, luckily.

"It would fall off in the middle of a crossing. I have had others fall off in gutters."

With her injuries and the stress of dealing with ACC, she became seriously depressed and required treatment. However, Mrs Smith, who has two adult sons, is mentally well now, which she largely attributes to accident claimant advocate David Wadsworth.

"Every time I asked for help, the occupational therapists would say I wasn't entitled," Mrs Smith said.

In a four-year battle, she successfully challenged ACC for entitlements, including that she had suffered a treatment injury, funding for a suitable car, for a kitchen she could use safely - and even to get access ramps installed in her home.

When she sought ramps, an occupational therapist told her: "'Your family can help you up. They can carry you'."

In 2008, an ACC complaints investigator instructed a mid-level manager to apologise to Mrs Smith after finding various parts of the ACC Code of Claimants' Rights, including the right to honest, open and effective communication, had been breached.

Later, however, Mrs Smith learned from reading her ACC file that an official had tried to influence assessments of her for a vehicle, kitchen and bathroom.

In arranging an assessment, the official wrote: "PS please ensure that assessor knows we are looking at mods [modifications] available on current vehicle ONLY - NOT looking at purchasing a new vehicle as this is what the client is likely to 'push for'!"

A similar comment was made regarding the assessment for a kitchen.

An email from an occupational therapist says "If her bathroom mods are declined as per our discussion, can you clarify this with Diane."

Mrs Smith - a former furniture saleswoman, who receives earnings-related compensation from ACC - said the corporation eventually accepted it wasn't feasible to modify her car and paid for most of a new Suzuki.

Mr Wadsworth said he was shocked by the apparent attempt to influence the assessments. By law, rehabilitation needs assessments were required to be based on the claimant's needs, "not a predetermined decision by ACC's staff to deny entitlements".

ACC said yesterday that although it had not been given sufficient time to fully investigate Mrs Smith's latest concerns, it acknowledged its service to her in the past had been substandard.

"ACC is happy to work with Mrs Smith to address any current concerns she has regarding her claims."

- NZ Herald

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