Natalie Akoorie

Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Crash victim in 12-year battle for ACC compo

Injured man still waiting for backdated payout after winning at disputes hearing.

Paul Smith broke three vertebrae in his back in a car accident. Photo / Dean Purcell
Paul Smith broke three vertebrae in his back in a car accident. Photo / Dean Purcell

A man who broke his back in three places in a car accident had to battle ACC three times over 12 years to get compensation and he's still waiting.

His case is one of dozens reported to the Herald following an article about a woman's three-year fight against ACC after it cut entitlements, claiming her injury was the result of a pre-existing condition.

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Paul Smith broke three vertebrae in his back when he was rear-ended at high speed on Auckland's Southern Motorway in February 1998.

But the then 28-year-old was diagnosed with whiplash injury and fibromyalgia chronic pain.

He tried to continue working as an IT consultant but was eventually asked to leave.

In 2001 ACC asked Mr Smith to see specialist Brian Otto. "I drove the approximately 67km from my home in Glenfield only to be told Mr Otto had reviewed my case without me present and I could go home."

Mr Smith was diagnosed with pain syndrome caused by a degenerative spine condition, and ACC stopped entitlements. He had to sell his house, give away his dog, had his car repossessed, moved in with his mother and went on an invalid's benefit.

He went to the Disputes Resolution Service in mid-2001 which upheld ACC's decision, but he did not give up, seeking an MRI scan through the public health system in 2005.

It showed two of the three broken vertebrae with a protruding disc pressing on the left sciatic nerve. Surgery was recommended to fuse the lower spine but ACC refused to pay.

Mr Smith hired a lawyer and in 2010 the case was to be heard in the District Court, when ACC offered a settlement including weekly compensation, backdating the entitlements to 2005 and covering the surgery.

After ACC again cut Mr Smith's entitlements in February 2012 he went back to the Disputes Resolution Service in March this year and won, though he still hasn't received the backdated compensation.

ACC said Mr Smith's initial treatment was focused on injuries consistent with whiplash. "It was only some time later when Mr Smith's neck and arm injuries became less of an issue that his back pain issues emerged," a spokesman said.

He said ACC acknowledged there had been unacceptable delays in making his back payments and it apologised to Mr Smith after the Herald made inquiries.

Labour spokeswoman for ACC, Sue Moroney, said she had fielded many concerns about ACC-appointed specialists. "It is a cause for concern that there's not a lot of transparency around it."

The Minister for ACC, Judith Collins, said she expected the corporation to take the medical opinions it received seriously.

"ACC must ensure entitlements are delivered transparently and fairly to those who need them. It therefore relies in good faith on the integrity and expertise of medical assessors and their reports," she said.

"This is why they do the right thing and offer settlement when they receive other medical reports on the claim with more compelling rationale and consistency than the original reports."

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- NZ Herald

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