October 14, 2010

If you or your family are planning a trip to New Zealand, be warned that as you step off the aircraft after landing, you are entering a legal-liability free zone. In an experiment that began nearly 40 years ago, New Zealand decided to remove personal accountability from people who hurt others in car wrecks and industrial tragedies.  This applies to every victim – including international visitors – maimed, killed or orphaned anywhere in the land of the long white cloud.

Consider what happened to Patricia Pascoe from Hervey Bay when she was on a holiday tour. On the road to Christchurch from Arthur’s Pass a speeding car crossed on to the wrong side of the road in a tunnel and collided with her head-on.

Mr Pascoe suffered a serious neck injury and Mrs Pascoe has had multiple surgeries for her internal injuries. They both bear the lifelong deficits of the injuries and can’t keep up with even looking after their home and day-to-day chores. Their retirement years have been turned into a nightmare.

For the last 8 years they have been fighting the New Zealand legal system – going all the way to the High Court. But no – they were not suing the reckless driver or its insurer. They can’t. The speedster – like anyone there responsible for any calamity – is completely exempted from accountability and does not have to have any insurance.

Under New Zealand’s social experiment, the NZ Accident Compensation Corporation (“ACC”) pays for medical expenses and pays benefits during recuperation, similar to Centrelink disability payments.  The scheme is funded by premiums paid by employers, employees, motor vehicle registration fees and by taxpayers.

But for overseas visitors, payment for treatment costs stops once you return home. The Pascoes were left high and dry to fend for themselves after a horrific accident that was entirely the fault of a reckless speedster. Patricia’s fight in the High Court was against the unfairness of the system but unfortunately, the odds were stacked against her and she lost.
Despite all this, the website of the NZ embassy in Australia promotes their dodgy system as a positive:

The ACC provides comprehensive insurance cover in case of an accident. Everyone in New Zealand, including Australian citizens or permanent residents who are visiting and living in New Zealand, is eligible for cover and a wide range of assistance while they remain in New Zealand. This includes help with treatment costs, rehabilitation and death benefits.

These words are misleading and even deceptive. A fair and balanced statement would warn potential visitors that they are surrendering important legal rights on entry into New Zealand that they take for granted in Australia.

Opinonian has written to the High Commissioner today demanding that appropriate warnings be posted. We all hope that accidents are unlikely when travelling – and thankfully, they are – but the Pascoes’ misfortune should be a stark warning to all other visitors to countries with second class legal systems.

Travel insurance can help but all medical cover stops under a travel policy on arrival home and financial losses for not being able to work or requiring in-home care are NEVER covered.

The unfortunate corollary of an absence of accountability is that in countries like New Zealand where there is no economic incentive (like potential insurance premium hikes or lawsuits) to prevent accidents, there is also no safety culture and accident rates are higher.

Patricia Pascoe has spent a lot of time warning people about New Zealand’s legal system and the risks that people take when they travel there. If you want to hear the full terrifying story of her ordeal,  Opinonian can put readers in touch with her to hear of her horrors firsthand.

Categories: Law practice , Personal Injury , Opinonian , Litigation & Law Practice , Holiday & Travel Law

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