ACC discriminates against people with disabilities and should be replaced, says barrister
Last updated 05:00, December 11 2017
Dunedin barrister Warren Forster says he wants to use an award from the New Zealand Law Foundation to help create a new system that supports and empowers all people with disabilities irrespective of cause.
A champion for the rights of ACC claimants who've been refused cover has been awarded the country's highest legal research award.
Dunedin barrister Warren Forster accepted the New Zealand Law Foundation International Research Fellowship, worth $125,000, at a ceremony at Government House on Friday.
Forster, a passionate advocate for the rights of people with disabilites, said he would use the award to fulfil the vision of Sir Owen Woodhouse, "the father of ACC", and provide help to disabled and sick Kiwis, irrespective of the cause.
Warren Forster, a lawyer who specialises in ACC cases, has been awarded a $125,000 fellowship.
"Sir Owen foresaw the problems that we see now when we discriminate based on cause of disability. People's experiences in both ACC and the disability system need to be improved."
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After more than a decade fighting legal battles over ACC decisions, Forster said he had seen the futility and cost of a system based on proving the cause of someone's disability.
Forster knew little about ACC when his mother was injured in an accident in 2005.
When she was declined compensation, he returned to New Zealand from overseas, "dusted off the law books" and represented her in court.
He was dumb-founded by what he saw as an "unbelievable bureaucratic cost-shifting exercise about who would provide treatment".
"ACC staff lied at the hearing and went back and changed their computer records to match the evidence."
ACC eventually accepted it had not followed due process and an out of court settlement was reached.
"It gave me a sense of what goes on in this jurisdiction and made me quite interested in trying to learn more, figure things out and make a difference."
Forster said ACC had created an industry of litigation focussed on battles over causation, which did nothing to support people suffering the effects of disability and injuries.
Instead of reforming ACC, a new system should be developed that gave people access to social support, rehabilitation and opportunities to re-enter the workforce, he said.
Research showed people who received support from ACC were less likely to be negatively affected by their disability.
The cost of providing care for those unable to win the causation argument was left to the public health system, and left vulnerable people to battle with multiple different agencies for support, Forster said.
"A person who has a hernia covered by ACC has almost immediate surgery and goes back to work, a person who doesn't goes on to a waiting list in the public health system, they will probably lose their job because they can't work while they are waiting for surgery."
Forster will research social support systems in Scandinavian countries, Germany, Ireland and Canada and then develop recommendations for a uniquely Kiwi system focused on "support and empowerment for people in need rather than shifting costs within the health system".