ACC rejects tourist driver's refund offer

by Zac Fleming / 09 June, 2017
US heart surgeon Dr Kenneth Wolnak admitted charges of careless driving that caused a double fatality in February. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

ACC says accepting money from any individual is outside its legal role.

A guilt-ridden tourist who killed two men in a car crash tried to pay back ACC for his medical costs, but was told it couldn't take his money.

US heart surgeon Dr Kenneth Wolnak, 63, whose careless driving killed two men in Nelson in February, offered to pay ACC for his medical bill, but his offer was rejected for legal reasons.

ACC said it could not take money from any individual, regardless of whether the payment was voluntary.

"Our funding mechanisms are provided by statute, and therefore any other funding is considered beyond our legal role," an ACC spokesperson said.

Don Rennie, who helped to set up ACC in 1974 and is now the convenor of the Law Society's ACC arm, said that was absurd.

"There should be some way that that money can be repatriated back to New Zealand. I think it's ridiculous that they don't have some system where people who feel conscience-bound to pay can pay it back," Mr Rennie said.

Data given to Checkpoint with John Campbell shows overseas visitors filed 10,558 ACC claims last year - nearly 30 a day - at a cost of $5.1 million.

Three years earlier in 2013, those numbers were less than half of that: 4647 claims at a cost of $2.4m.

Mr Rennie said he believed ACC could legally accept Dr Wolnak's money if it wanted.

"I'm not aware of anything in the legislation that says ACC can't receive compensation which is voluntary returned," he said.

Another leading ACC law expert, Warren Forster, agreed.

"There's nothing stopping ACC receiving [Mr Wolnak's] payment," he said.

But ACC Minister Michael Woodhouse said he did not want ACC to accept Mr Wolnak's money, as it would signal a move towards a system where tourists pay.

"If insurers from overseas were required to pay out from New Zealand-based accidents, they would look for a remedy, they would look for the person who was at fault and seek to claim money back from them," Mr Woodhouse said.

"If I was at fault in an accident with a foreign driver, and their insurance company paid out, then there's no doubt they'd come to me for liability... and I don't think that's where we want to go."

Mr Forster said the total cost of overseas visitors' healthcare could be much higher than the $5.1m cost to ACC, because acute hospital care, for example emergency departments, might not be recorded on an individual basis.

But he said tourists might pay for their own ACC costs through the 6.9 cent per litre fuel levy.

"It could be that through fuel and motor vehicle levies that $5m is collected already, they could be making $20m profit on top of that," Mr Forster said.

ACT party leader David Seymour wants ACC to be scrapped entirely, or at the very least updated.

"In 1974 when ACC was set up, we were an insular country with not a lot of coming and going. Today we're a highly globalised country and we need to modernise, we need a system where people outside the country can make a contribution for the risks that they take," Mr Seymour said.

If current trends continue, overseas visitors could cost ACC around $10m a year by 2020.

Overall, ACC paid out nearly two million claims last year, at a cost of $3.5bn.

This article was originally published by RNZ.


The art and soul of Te Papa
88235 2018-03-17 00:00:00Z Arts

The art and soul of Te Papa

by Sally Blundell

Twenty years ago, Te Papa opened with little space to exhibit its national art collection. Now, it is showing off its new dedicated art space.

Read more
Does chewing more help curb your appetite?
87918 2018-03-17 00:00:00Z Nutrition

Does chewing more help curb your appetite?

by Jennifer Bowden

Our appetite-control hormones are affected by chewing, according to some studies, whereas others show no change.

Read more
How Auckland rapper JessB went from face in the crowd to queen of the stage
88396 2018-03-16 09:42:00Z Music

How Auckland rapper JessB went from face in the cr…

by Vomle Springford

Auckland rapper JessB is making her mark in the male-dominated hip-hop scene with the release of her much-anticipated debut EP Bloom.

Read more
Defence Minister Ron Mark defends his use of military aircraft
88389 2018-03-16 07:02:40Z Politics

Defence Minister Ron Mark defends his use of milit…

by Craig McCulloch

Defence Minister Ron Mark is denying any inappropriate use of military aircraft after revelations he has used them to fly to and from home.

Read more
Corrections moves sex offenders from lodge close to school
88387 2018-03-16 06:55:59Z Crime

Corrections moves sex offenders from lodge close t…

by Eva Corlett and Sally Murphy

Corrections says it will review its processes after it was discovered 11 sex offenders were living less than a kilometre away from an Auckland school.

Read more
Rodney Walshe: One of Ireland's best-known exports to New Zealand
88222 2018-03-16 00:00:00Z Profiles

Rodney Walshe: One of Ireland's best-known exports…

by Clare de Lore

When he arrived here from Ireland in 1960, Rodney Walshe had nothing but a suit and the gift of the gab. They took him a long way.

Read more
Derek Handley talks Trump, business and coming home
88378 2018-03-16 00:00:00Z Profiles

Derek Handley talks Trump, business and coming hom…

by Clare de Lore

The nomadic New Zealander who’s set his sights on space travel is no longer an alien.

Read more
How Lisa Walker went from teenage Wellington punk to celebrated jeweller
88263 2018-03-16 00:00:00Z What's on

How Lisa Walker went from teenage Wellington punk …

by Mike White

The Anarchist jeweller has a remarkable show at new Te Papa gallery, Toi Art.

Read more