Christchurch builder Bill Toomey has won a landmark case against ACC to cover the post-traumatic stress disorder he suffered after pulling people from a collapsed building after the February 2011 earthquake.
After the earthquake hit, Toomey downed his tools and drove into town to see how he could help.
Firemen took him into the PGC building, where he helped drill through a concrete floor to rescue people trapped inside.
He described the scene as “horrific”.
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“I could hear people screaming, there was dust everywhere.”
Two years later, Toomey had what he thought was a heart attack. After three hospital admissions and a battery of tests, he was diagnosed with PTSD.
His symptoms included chest pain, difficulty with walking, nightmares and shaking. He was unable to work for more than two years.
Concrete dust, sirens and people screaming could trigger Toomey’s shaking. He would struggle to breathe and think he would die.
ACC denied his claim because his mental health injury was not triggered at work.
His lawyer, Louise Newman, said the ACC Act covered mental injury in limited circumstances.
“We argued it was still a work-related injury because he was using his specialist skills as a builder,” she said.
“We don’t want to deincentivise people wanting to help with emergency situations.”
The Auckland District Court agreed it was a work-related injury.
Newman said opened the door for less restrictive legislation for mental injury cover.
Toomey said the court decision took a heavy weight off his shoulders.
“It was amazing. I had to ring my lawyer again after she told me the news to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.”
Toomey said his condition improved after a year of counselling. He had started to work again.
He hoped he would get back-pay from ACC and that his case would help other people get cover for mental health conditions.
An ACC spokesman said the organisation’s lawyers were reviewing the decision, which was released Friday, to decide whether or not to appeal it.
It was too early to tell what the decision would mean for other people suffering a mental injury while volunteering their professional skills, he said.