A retired plumber whose wife was killed when a truck hit her has won a long-running battle over compensation and forced a possible law change.

Ernest Findlay Heads, known as Fin, was jubilant after the Human Rights Review Tribunal last week ruled in his favour - and the decision could benefit other grieving widows and widowers.

Shirley Heads, 64, died in 2008 when a truck hit her at a pedestrian crossing outside Dunedin Hospital, where she worked.

The driver was convicted of careless driving causing death.

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Mr Heads, now 73, was told that accident compensation payments would be made for 12 months after his wife's death, then he would have to choose between ACC and superannuation. But other people who had not qualified for super were entitled to five years' compensation.

"It's like I was punished because my wife was killed," Mr Heads said.

He decided to challenge the decision, rigorously researching the law.

"I'm a stubborn old bastard. Most old folk would give up. But I made a vow to a lady who passed away."

He said some people accused him of "double-dipping" without considering the circumstances of Shirley's death and the principle of universal superannuation. He said the couple had paid taxes and levies for decades.

He launched proceedings in the Human Rights Tribunal, which has now agreed that part of the Accident Compensation Act breaches the Human Rights Act.

In a series of hearings in 2013, the Crown argued it would be too expensive to allow for all spouses in Mr Heads' position to receive compensation for up to five years.

But the tribunal said if Mr Heads' argument succeeded, the cost to New Zealand each year would be no more than $1.3 million.

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Said Mr Heads: "There were only two or three people a year put in this position, at a time when they're most vulnerable, having lost in most cases their lifetime partner."

The tribunal said about 30 surviving spouses were in a similar situation to Mr Heads.

Mr Heads' lawyer, Dr Fiona McCrimmon, said: "If it's you or me and our spouse or partner is killed in an accident, then we would be entitled to five years of weekly compensation as a surviving spouse.

"That would be a recognition of the fact that we'd just suffered a loss of an income-earning spouse or partner.

"This is no doubt a decision of the tribunal that will form part of the human rights landscape in New Zealand for years to come."

The Crown has until May 17 to appeal. ACC Minister Nikki Kaye's office said it would take some time to digest the tribunal's decision. She said officials would brief ministers in the next couple of weeks.