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Lawyers warn NIIS threatens legal rights

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More than 80% of personal injury lawyers consider the National Injury Insurance Scheme (NIIS) a backward step for consumers, according to a survey for the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

The principal concern is that the scheme’s no-fault basis will curtail or remove the right of people who are catastrophically injured due to negligence to sue for compensation.

In 2011 the Productivity Commission recommended the creation of two schemes: the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and the NIIS. It recommended that the NIIS be separate, in part to reduce the cost of the NDIS through a fully funded accident insurance scheme.

The commission recommended the NIIS be developed for four categories of catastrophic injuries: motor vehicle, workplace, medical and general accidents in the home or community.

The Federal Government is negotiating with state and territory governments to develop the NIIS as a federated model of separate, state-based, no-fault schemes. National benchmarks will apply.

Since intergovernmental agreement on the launch of the NDIS was signed in 2012 – which included the NIIS in the terms of the agreement – national NIIS benchmarks have been adopted for motor vehicle accidents.

National benchmarks for workplace accidents are expected to be in place next year.

ALA National President and Sydney barrister Andrew Stone says the NIIS’ development has “largely been done in secret”. He wants the Government to release details of how it will affect consumers’ legal rights.

“The NIIS was slipped through as a way of funding the NDIS by, in effect, reducing the impact on the taxpayer and imposing it specifically on select groups [in the community],” Mr Stone told insuranceNEWS.com.au.

“The detail of the NIIS must be made accessible to the public and there must be public discussion about the NIIS reforms. The Government should state clearly how it will change people’s legal rights to compensation. This is important because these rights have existed for more than 100 years.”  

Most ALA members support the NDIS: 55% believe it will have a positive effect.