Broadsides over 'farcical' payout rule

By Martin Johnston

By Martin Johnston

A farmer who was injured after dodging a kick from a cow was told by Accident Compensation that she would have been financially better off if the cow had kicked her.

Physiotherapists have condemned the ruling as "farcical," saying it was clearly aimed at cost-cutting.

The Accident Compensation and Rehabilitation Insurance Corporation says it will not pay out for the injury, which does not meet its new, tougher definition of an accident.

A spokesman, Craig Dowling, said yesterday that it had tightened its policy after district court rulings on the definition of an accident, which had been in ACC statutes since 1992.

He cited three appeals Judge Martin Beattie rejected. They involved the cow-dodging dairy farmer; a man who, while climbing stairs, injured his back when he turned to talk to his grandchild; and a woman who hurt her neck during a bad night's sleep.

The Auckland Physiotherapists Private Practitioners Association said the corporation's stance was "farcical and aimed at cost containment."

The vice-president, Philip Parker, said patients affected would now have to pay the full cost of their treatment and would miss out on other entitlements.

At least 20 per cent of physiotherapists' work involved non-impact injuries.

Mr Dowling said the corporation's move was not about saving money. It was "prudent and necessary" to follow the court's interpretation of legislation.

Accident compensation law specialist John Miller, of Victoria University, said last night that the new policy was ridiculous.

He said Judge Beattie had ruled - contrary to earlier case law - that gravity itself was unlikely ever to be the force or resistance that caused injury. In the newly privatised market, that decision could open the way to insurers refusing to pay out for falls, and he planned a High Court appeal.

Labour's ACC spokeswoman, Ruth Dyson, said thousands of people would miss out on cover because of the policy change, which would encourage people to lie about the causes of their injuries.

The Minister of Accident Compensation, Murray McCully, could not be contacted last night.

Mr Dowling said the corporation acknowledged some health workers might have been disadvantaged by the policy change, as it was introduced last month but would not be formally notified until next week.

The corporation would reimburse any health workers who had offered treatment in good faith during that period thinking it would be covered.

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