In last month’s tragic White Island volcano eruption, nearly four dozen people were killed or injured. Fingers point to the careless negligence of tour operators in continuing to guide people into the area despite years of warnings from volcanic experts that an eruption was due.
However, under New Zealand’s no-fault accident compensation scheme, neither the family members of the victims nor the survivors of the event can bring suit against tour operations. Since the 1970s, this scheme has effectively banned victims and their families from taking legal action based on unsafe conduct, such as a tour operator guiding people into dangerous terrain.
Instead, the scheme, which is underwritten and run by the New Zealand government, means there is little exposure or accountability for companies responsible for preventable accidents. Both residents and visitors can apply for compensation if they suffer accidents while at work, on a holiday or during a natural disaster. The process seems simple: Submit a claim to the country’s public indemnity insurance provider, the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), to receive compensation for mental or physical injuries.
However, it’s often not that simple. While the ACC has been touted as a perfect solution – streamlining claims with a universal coverage that has defined benefits and allows victims and families to seek compensation outside of costly court action – its benefits are ultimately fairly limited. Detractors say they encourage and incentives reckless behavior.
In the case of the recent Whakaari/White Island disaster, claimants may be eligible for ACC funds whether they have been directly impacted or are related to someone who died. For family members of non-New Zealand citizens, funds for funeral costs and a one-off survivor grant may be provided. Domestic family members can eligible for weekly compensation payments. This sounds good on the surface, but many previous claimants with the ACC complain of the repeated requirements to prove their claim and the frustration of dealing with the red tape associated with the scheme’s operations.
While traditional claims cannot be brought against tour operators, some say there may still be a chance for cases brought against individuals working for the tour company for exemplary damages – but likely won’t be possible until the multiple investigations into the December accident are completed.
The ACC created a special webpage with information on compensation and claims filings for both New Zealanders and international visitors (including Australians) affected by the event. If you or a family member have suffered injury or loss of life while traveling abroad, contact Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers.