Review finds claimant deserves at least fifth apology in as many years from corporation

ACC has been faulted for trying to limit the scope of independent assessments of an amputee's needs for help with transportation and housing modifications.

A reviewer ruled the Accident Compensation Corporation treated Aucklander Diane Smith unfairly, ordered costs in her favour and recommended she be given an apology - at least her fifth since her ACC saga began with a fall on the broken steps of a cafe in 2003.

Mrs Smith, now 54, fractured her left ankle in the accident, and the surgery to fix it caused problems resulting in the amputation of her lower leg. She has had to struggle through legal reviews to obtain her entitlements under ACC law, such as compensation for changes to her house and most of the cost of a new car.

As well as winning those battles, Mrs Smith and her advocate David Wadsworth challenged the method in which ACC tried to disentitle her after they read emails on her file that showed officials tried to limit the recommendations independent assessors could make.

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Under the Accident Compensation Act 2001, rehabilitation assessments are intended to identify what a claimant needs, irrespective of ACC's liability. Only later can ACC consider what it will and won't provide.

But in Mrs Smith's case the aim was to limit the vehicle and kitchen assessments to modifications, excluding consideration of a new vehicle and paying to put in a new kitchen, which they said she was likely to "push for".

An ACC complaints investigator objected to the staff comments about what Mrs Smith would seek and ordered an apology, but upheld the corporation's efforts to limit the scope of assessments, indicating that this approach was ACC policy.

"ACC has a responsibility to the taxpayer in the first instance to ensure that all funding is cost-effective," the investigator said.

"If Mrs Smith's current vehicle could be modified to suit her needs then there would be no reason why ACC should at that stage consider funding a new vehicle."

But reviewer Sandhya Reddy said: "... ACC cannot decide the options that may be available to the assessor for consideration.

"Once ACC receives this independent assessment report, ACC must then exercise its legislative and discretionary powers to make a decision on what is the best option, taking into consideration factors such as outcome, cost effectiveness, and the other factors that it is required to consider under the act."

Mrs Smith said she was "disgusted" by ACC's behaviour and had lost trust in the organisation.

Its apologies were worthless because they were made under instructions and did not convey a commitment to change.

Mr Wadsworth said he knew of other claimants whose assessments ACC had tried to manipulate under a "sick culture" tolerated by the management.

A spokesman said last night: "It's not ACC's practice to attempt to limit the scope of external assessments. We accept the independent reviewer's finding that an external assessment should not involve any restriction on the assessment by ACC."

ACC abided by the legislation, he said, "but has noted the reviewer's concern about ensuring that external assessments are entirely independent, and we will remind staff of this during coaching and training".

How ACC behaved
Written apologies to Diane Smith
1 2008 - ACC didn't return calls, assurances not honoured, poor communication.

ACC - "You have not received the level of communication or service that ACC expects."

2 2008 - Complaints investigator says first apology inadequate.

ACC - Fresh apology.

3 2102 - Internal ACC emails, released to Mrs Smith, mocked her as "completely deranged" and a "pain in arse".

ACC - "I would like to sincerely apologise if you find any of the disclosed material distressing ..."

4 2012 - Staff emails say Mrs Smith "likely to 'push for'!" new vehicle and kitchen.

ACC - Sorry, after complaints investigator instructs an apology be made.

5 2012 - Staff try to limit scope of assessment of her transportation and house modification needs.

ACC - "ACC was unprofessional ... I sincerely apologise."