New Zealand’s ACC system is an internationally unique form of accident compensation that provides universal, 24-hour no-fault cover for personal injury, and is accompanied by a complete ban against common-law negligence actions. The concept was proposed by the Royal Commission on Personal Injury, 1967, chaired by Sir Owen Woodhouse. ACC came into existence in 1974.
The Woodhouse Report is a visionary social and legal document, and a one-day seminar to celebrate its 40th anniversary will be held at Auckland University on 13 December 2007. See link.
ACC is universal for those injured by accident, but there is an ongoing grievance in the disability sector about the more generous entitlements for ACC claimants, compared to those who may be equally incapacitated due to other causes and who are covered by public health and social assistance. For people in the disability sector, the ACC–health anomaly has been an ongoing source of dissatisfaction and grievance. ACC is based on the social-insurance principle of compensation for losses incurred, and, due to the ban on the right to sue, it must make up for the loss of those rights. Persons with disability covered by ACC are thus entitled to more generous income support that is not means-tested, and to more generous treatment subsidies and rehabilitation entitlements. From the point of view of an individual who lives with a disability caused by a congenital or a chronic degenerative condition, the discrepancy in the levels of support for different disability groups, based purely on cause and not on actual needs or losses, seems unjust. A case brought before the Human Rights Tribunal claims that the different entitlements provided by ACC and the Ministry of Health, being based purely on different causes of disability, are a form of discrimination. A woman who suffers from severe multiple sclerosis and who is wheelchair-bound has taken this case. Despite severe impairment and disability, she receives significantly less support than an ACC claimant with similar needs. At the time of writing, Crown Law had successfully challenged the Tribunal’s right to hear the case, arguing that cause of disability is not one of the prohibited grounds. The plaintiff, however, was preparing to appeal this decision to the High Court (John Miller, personal communication).
Whether or not that appeal is successful, it does indicate the ongoing grievance in the disability sector about a discrepancy in entitlements based purely on the cause of disability, to the neglect of actual life-consequences. Furthermore, the financial disadvantage to many persons with disability who may not be granted ACC cover raises the stakes for those on the margins of the scheme to litigate over the question of cover.