Outbreak linked to the deaths of three elderly people, caused financial strife for Havelock North businesses, cost agencies nearly $4m, sparked national concern about untreated water. PHOTO/FILE

Seven of eight claims for financial assistance after the 2016 gastro crisis have been declined by the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), after it clarified its policy on what a “criminal act” could be defined as.

In August 2016 more than a third of Havelock North’s population fell ill after their drinking water supply was contaminated with campylobactor.

ACC had initially declined some claims relating to the campylobactor outbreak, stating they could cover those which met criteria under the Accident Compensation Act. This states the ingestion of bacteria is not considered an accident unless it is the result of a criminal act.

However findings from the Government Inquiry into the outbreak raised hopes it could be argued the failure to protect public health by some agencies was a criminal act.

The inquiry found that several parties with responsibility for supplying water for Havelock North – in particular the Hastings District, and Hawke’s Bay Regional councils, and Drinking Water Assessors – failed in their duty to protect public health and prevent such outbreaks.

The failings, most notably by the regional council and the district council, did not directly cause the outbreak, although a different outcome may have occurred in their absence.

After seeking legal advice, yesterday an ACC spokesman said they had reconfirmed their decision to decline seven claims.

One claim relating to the outbreak was accepted because it was for a physical injury to someone with the gastro bug, caused by the contamination of Havelock North’s drinking water supply.

After the Government inquiry revealed that a local council had paid a fine for infringing regulations, ACC looked at how it interpreted section 25 of the AC Act, as ‘criminal act’ is not defined by the legislation.

It also wanted to consider the broader policy question of how it should go about deciding that a ‘criminal act’ had occurred in any given situation.

ACC had now clarified its policy to be that a ‘criminal act’ in terms of section 25 has occurred when a Court or similar body finds a criminal offence has taken place.

“There are some limited exceptions to this, such as where it is obvious a criminal act has occurred but the perpetrator can’t be found.”

“As a result of the policy clarification, ACC confirms it is unable to extend cover to the declined Hawke’s Bay gastro claims because under section 25 of the AC Act a criminal act has not occurred.”

The 2016 outbreak was also linked to the deaths of three elderly people, caused Havelock North businesses to suffer financially, cost local agencies nearly $4m and sparked national concern about the safety of untreated water.

A financial assistance fund was created to assist those who faced financial strain as a result of the contamination. More than $300,000 had been requested by 37 people before it closed in September.

Source: Hawke’s Bay Today


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