260 Weeks: Poor Timing on Harsh Changes

In October 2012, amendments to the Workers Compensation Act 1987 were introduced by the government including regulations surrounding workers ongoing entitlements to weekly payments.

Under Section 39, a worker who is not classified by an Independent Medical Examiner (“IME”) as having a level of whole person impairment (“WPI”) at 21% or greater, is unable to receive weekly benefits beyond 260 weeks (5 years). At the time these amendments were introduced, a number of workers had already exceeded this mark and so it was decided that all workers receiving entitlements as at 1 October 2012 (also referred to as ‘existing recipients’) would have their calculation begin from this date regardless of the entitlements they had already received.

All workers injured following 1 October 2012 would have their calculation begin from the date of their injury.

Many of the workers compensation insurers went into overdrive last year preparing IME assessments for thousands of workers who were approaching the 260 week mark. These assessments however, are only the opinion of the insurer and their assessor and are not final and binding. An injured worker is entitled to obtain their own assessment if they do not believe it is correct and can do so by contacting their solicitor for further advice.

Unfortunately for the existing recipients, the 260 week mark was reached on 25 December 2017 leaving a bleak Christmas for a staggering 3,448 workers who were cut off weekly payments despite many of them still being unable to return to work due to the effects of their injuries.

It has been identified that since these changes were implemented, 1 in 10 of these workers are at risk of self-harm with 13 actual reported cases. In addition to this, there have been 6 deaths reported as likely to be suicide although the cause of death has not yet been confirmed. The risk of suicide and self-harm was identified by the government at the time of the proposed changes but despite this, the changes were implemented anyway.

We can’t do anything about the structural unfairness in a system which treats an impairment rating rather than ability to work as the standard by which people have benefits cut off but we can make sure that the law has been applied fairly and where weekly compensation or medical expenses are withdrawn a worker has received all the benefits they are legally entitled too. The good news is that it doesn’t cost a worker anything to have us check this out.

If your weekly payments have been terminated, please contact our qualified Workers Compensation team for further advice.

Written By: Don Cameron (Managing Lawyer) & Lauren Henderson (Law Clerk)