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Quake rescuer wins ACC cover fight

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 1/05/2017

A Christchurch builder who developed post-traumatic stress disorder after helping rescue people in the 2011 earthquake has won a court case to get ACC coverage.

William "Bill" Toomey saw a person dying in front of him and several dead bodies while helping emergency services in the aftermath of the February 2011 quake.

He had driven into Christchurch with an employee after the quake to see if he could help rescuers, emptying his other work van and giving the keys to St John's Ambulance.

Using his building skills, Mr Toomey helped firefighters drill through a concrete floor at the PGC building, gave advice to emergency services about the building's structure and comforted a woman who was crushed.

He said while rescuing people from the rubble, at times he feared he would not be able to make it out alive himself, according to court documents.

Several hospital admissions later, he was diagnosed with PTSD and was unable to work for a period of more than two years.

However, the Accident Compensation Corporation declined to pay him for the time he couldn't work, saying his injury could not be covered as a work-related accident because he had volunteered to help.

A subsequent review upheld that position.

But in a newly released decision, the Auckland District Court has allowed the appeal of that decision, saying Mr Toomey had effectively been co-opted by emergency services to use his skills during the rescue.

"Whether or not he fits precisely within the category of an agent, he was certainly under the direction of the Fire Service," Judge Nicola Mathers said.

"He was 'working' as a builder as co-opted, and not a mere 'non-working volunteer to the accident."

She said Mr Toomey was entitled to legal costs and back payment, with the parties expected to work out the sums.

Comment has been requested from ACC.

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