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Grainne’s Story

Briefly describe your experience of being involved in workers compensation.

In 1985 my husband, Peter sustained a work-related, severe traumatic brain injury and so began a 32 year relationship with Workers Compensation. Once he came out of his coma he was classified as having a catastrophic injury. Peter’s injuries were so severe that he would never return to work and would never live independently again. Workers Compensation did always fund my husband’s medical and like expense/needs but – as interpretations of the Workers Compensation Act were varied – it was very difficult and a battle at times. Workers Compensation wasn’t set up to cope with someone whose injuries were as severe as Peter’s, and the system certainly wasn’t set up at that time to support a husband and wife trying to navigate such a major injury together as a team.

Were there positive parts of your experience, of people that helped along the way?

Plenty of positive parts – firstly Peter survived his accident. When the Workers Compensation representatives (we had nine different insurance companies and countless company representatives over Peter’s post-injury lifetime) took the time to meet Peter, it all became real and a lot clearer for them. Some of the organisations or their representatives tried to understand and have empathy. I tried to have every insurer meet Peter, even if it was only a card to say thank you to them for a piece of equipment and to show how it improved Peter’s life. I could still to this day give names of some Workers Compensation representatives that impacted Peter’s life in a good way. For possibly the last ten years Peter and other Workers Compensation claimants deemed to have catastrophic injuries were managed by the Transport Accident Commission (TAC). This was a very positive change as the team in at the TAC understood catastrophic brain injury.  However again, at times, it was a battle because their guidelines of funding were different to the other Workers Compensation insurers we had dealt with, so we had to learn a whole new system.

Were there negative parts of your experience or things that got in the way?

Of course there are always negatives, and they are easier to remember. Mostly no one could ever explain the rules of Workers Compensation – even the Act itself was open to interpretation and ‘fair and reasonable like expenses’ was the wording many decisions were made on. The structure kept changing, nine insurance companies with there own agendas. Workers Compensation wasn’t set up to deal with someone as severely injured as Peter. There were years that Peter and I paid for services out of our own pocket because professionals were not getting reimbursed timely enough and there was a risk they wouldn’t work with Peter, and he really needed their input. We took a Workers’ Compensation insurer to conciliation; it was settled the day before it went to court and that was to have a paid carer accompany Peter on an overseas holiday. All that thankfully has changed now.

Do you have suggestions for how workers compensation could be improved?

Firstly, see the person not just the injury. Peter continued to have many goals for the life he wanted to live after his brain injury, and he brought many life experiences from before his injury into post-injury life – a love of travel, a love of good music, food and wine, and a love of his family. Peter wanted to keep participating in all of these things after his injury, just like he had before his injury – a well-designed and person-centred workers compensation scheme could be an enabler to this.

Secondly, workers compensation could be improved if the injured person is listened to, believed and treated fairly according to their need. It seemed to me we were always having to prove Peter’s case to injury insurers – the severity of his injury, justifying Peter’s needs, trying to educate insurers on him as a person as well as how the injury had impacted both his and his family’s lives. As an example of this, medical panels had to be brought in when report after report had been written by many, many professionals. We never cheated or asked for anything unfairly. I believe most people do want to get well and return to a meaningful life after their injury. With a person-centred scheme design, Workers’ Compensation can enable that.