Global News with Muneeza Sheikh 21 March 2019
In the wake of last week’s deadly mosque attack in New Zealand, the country’s prime minister reassured people that the government would help cover funeral costs and ongoing recovery assistance for survivors and families of the 50 people killed — no matter their immigration status.
That’s thanks to New Zealand’s Accident Compensation Corp. (ACC), a unique government-controlled company paid for by public levies, that covers everyone in the country through a no-fault insurance scheme.
“There’s nothing like it in the world,” says Cameron Mustard, president and senior scientist at the Institute for Work and Health in Toronto.
“I’ve often wondered why the ACC model hasn’t spread further.”
What is the Accident Compensation Corp.?
Right now, the coverage you receive in Canada depends not only on where you live but also on how the accident happened: in a car? At work? Were you out with friends having a drink?
There’s a mix of private insurers when it comes to car accidents, while workers’ compensation handles on-the-job incidents. But the ACC is much more comprehensive, Mustard says.
Consider Lac-Mégantic, he explains. Nearly two-thirds of the 47 people who died in the Quebec town in 2013 after a train derailed and exploded were in a restaurant-bar at the time. While workers’ compensation would cover those who died while working in the bar, it wouldn’t apply to those who were simply having a drink or sharing a meal.
That isn’t the case in New Zealand. The ACC covers any injury resulting from an accident, be it a workplace incident, a car accident or, as happened last Friday, a deadly attack.
James Funnell, a spokesperson for the ACC, explains how the corporation will support the Christchurch victims:
- it will pay a tax-fee funeral grant up to $6,219.44 (all N.Z. dollars) (when topped up by the Ministry of Justice it will reach $10,000)
- it will pay for all acute medical care costs
- it will help cover longer-term medical treatment
- a tax-free survivor’s grant will be offered:
- $6,668.03 for the partner
- $3,334.04 for each child under the age of 18, or other dependants
- weekly payments to help cover childcare for the children of those killed will be offered to those living in New Zealand
- and families of those who were earning incomes in New Zealand when they died are eligible to be compensated up to 80 per cent of their earnings
- these payments will continue to partners for five years or until the youngest child turns 18 (that age increase to 21 if the child is in full-time studies)
This type of broad, no-fault — meaning “it doesn’t matter what you were doing when you were injured or who was at fault” — program has its benefits, says Jan Marin, a senior associate with Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers in Toronto.
Marin practises medical negligence, which often requires her to turn away those with less serious cases that aren’t worth the time and expense of a legal battle.
“A system like the ACC would benefit people in this respect,” she says.
While many have advocated adopting a no-fault approach to medical malpractice in Canada, “governments have not been highly motivated to take action,” wrote Elaine Gibson in an article in the Ottawa Law Review in 2016.
The motivation of the 10 jurisdictions, including New Zealand, that have such a scheme — occasionally dubbed “health courts” — centred primarily on reducing costs and “greater justice,” Gibson wrote.
But there can be drawbacks, Marin says. Chief among them: you lose the right to sue, which for some people can feel like a loss of agency if you can’t hold someone to account for wronging you.
However, from a medical malpractice perspective, Gibson wrote that very few legal actions are brought forward and most don’t actually receive any compensation. Further, in Sweden, which has a no-fault process but also leaves patients the option to sue (unlike New Zealand), more than 99 per cent of the claims are resolved without a lawsuit.
Would an Accident Compensation Corp. work in Canada?
There is a lot of ambiguity in what the ACC will cover, says Muneeza Sheikh, a senior partner at Levitt LLP.
Per the ACC, it covers any injury as a result of an accident. “We won’t cover things like illness, conditions from ageing and emotional issues,” according to its website. That isn’t automatically a bad thing, Sheikh says. It’s just not something she thinks is necessary in Canada.
“We have historically had our federal government step up and make some pretty significant funding contributions whenever there has been an incident of this nature,” she says. “I don’t think from a Canadian perspective that this is anything we need to model.”
Compensation was provided in the case of the Quebec City mosque shooting that killed six men in 2017. However, it took Khadija Thabti, whose husband Aboubaker Thabti was killed in the attack, two years of in-court fighting to be recognized as a victim of a criminal offence in order to receive the aid.
The ACC’s broad no-fault system does seem to make that process less adversarial, says Daniel Michaelson, a partner at Neinstein LLP law firm in Toronto.
However, he says, there are too many interest groups at stake in Canada for such a system to be easily replicated.
“You’d have to take the politics out of it.”