ACC adds 'deranged' insult to injury

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

ACC case managers called a woman "completely deranged" and a "pain in arse person" as they discussed her case in internal emails.

Auckland amputee Diane Smith has received an apology from the Accident Compensation Corporation - her third in four years - but says she now considers ACC apologies worthless.

Case manager Lesley Wilson declared Mrs Smith's claim "a NIGHTMARE!!", while colleague Rachael Wilson wrote in March 2008 "this woman is completely deranged".

"... she is a pain in arse person," Ms Wilson said in an earlier email, which was part of a series of messages in which staffers mock Mrs Smith's requests for assistance.

Mrs Smith, 54, asked ACC to give her her entire file and said yesterday it showed how the corporation treated her with contempt.

"When you've got people treating you like you are a [bludger], they forget I had a major accident and I had a medical misadventure.

"I think it's disgraceful. I didn't ask to have an accident. You pay your taxes and your ACC levies to take care of you if something happens."

Mrs Smith, who featured in the Herald in February, fell on the broken steps of a cafe in 2003, suffering multiple fractures in her left ankle and a dislocated knee. A screw and plate used to repair her ankle were too long and caused serious problems leading to the amputation of her lower left leg in 2009. She also developed problems in a shoulder after a long period on crutches.

An ACC team leader, Lynne Flood, sent a letter of apology before Mrs Smith had even seen the printouts of the offending emails.

"... a few emails between ACC staff are not written to our required standards of professionalism and which you may find upsetting," Ms Flood wrote. "I would like to sincerely apologise if you find any of the disclosed material distressing ..."

She said ACC was investigating and working to improve its standards of written communication.

The apology is Mrs Smith's third from ACC. The others were for failing to treat her with dignity and respect, and for failing to communicate honestly, openly and effectively.

Mrs Smith has had to fight her way through a number of legal reviews to obtain her entitlements from ACC, such as housing modifications, paying most of the cost of a new vehicle, and bathroom changes including a hydrotherapy spa bath which artificial limb experts said would help in healing injured tissue.

At one point a case manager put the ACC fraud unit onto her because she had not been in contact as required, but she hadn't been told a new case manager had been assigned and her messages to the previous one had gone unanswered.

In the middle of that wrangle she fell apart emotionally and came close to taking her life. She was saved by workmates who came to her home when she did not turn up at work. She has now recovered from depression, which she largely attributes to claimant advocate David Wadsworth's representing her in disputes with ACC.

Mr Wadsworth said ACC had developed an unhealthy resentment towards justified requests, which harmed its relationships with claimants.

The Smith emails also reveal that officials internally alleged that:

•The reviewer who ordered ACC to pay for Mrs Smith's bathroom modifications was "biased" in her favour; and

•Mr Wadsworth was "pompous" and that his conduct might constitute "incompetency".

Mr Wadsworth dismissed the "pompous" tag as name-calling, but said he is a highly competent advocate and would demand an apology over that abuse.

ACC's spokeswoman yesterday declined to comment. She said it would be inappropriate to speak about employee matters.

- NZ Herald

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