Money, mayhem and murder: How Pullar tried to get $14 million compo
Sovereign Insurance feared bad media publicity if it did not pay Bronwyn Pullar $14 million – a sum it said was greatly excessive and to which she was not entitled.
The Sovereign letter to Boag
The insurer said it was told in mid-2007 Ms Pullar’s case would be “taken to the media” if it didn’t pay out on her $14 million claim.
TV3 60 Minutesreporter Melanie Reid was already primed by Ms Pullar or someone in her camp.
Ms Reid had confronted Sovereign’s managing director with allegations of misrepresentation and misleading sales literature, mishandling Ms Pullar’s claim, taking advantage of a head injury patient and blocking her rehabilitation.
In June this year, five years down the track, Ms Reid, a friend of Ms Pullar’s for between five and seven years, prepared a TV3 60 Minutesreport sympathetic to Ms Pullar and which allowed Ms Pullar and spin doctor Michelle Boag to launch an attack on ACC.
And while Ms Reid was involved in Ms Pullar’s bid to extract $14 million from Sovereign, no mention of the Sovereign episode was made in the recent 60 Minutesstory.
No comment from Pullar
Ms Pullar told the National Business Review this week she could not comment on the Sovereign claim because it was settled and covered by confidentiality.
Letter details claim
Details of Ms Pullar’s $14 million claim and Sovereign’s view of negotiations are in a nine-page letter sent to Ms Boag, at PR People, by Sovereign’s then head of marketing and product management Vena Crawley on July 30, 2007. The document is available online at www.nbr.co.nz/pullar1.
By 2007 Sovereign had been paying Ms Pullar for lost income due to illness or accident for more than four years.
What Sovereign was paying her
Mr Crawley calculated Ms Pullar would receive a minimum of $124,904 a year, until she was 65, from a combination of ACC payments, income from work and Sovereign’s payments.
One friend estimated her annual payment from Sovereign was about $80,000.
In a move said to be intended to put pressure on Sovereign, Ms Pullar’s claim for $14 million was “backed” by a list of 28 names, including prominent individuals such as Sir Selwyn Cushing, John Key, Jenny Shipley and Wayne Mapp.
An underlying message of the List of 28 appears to have been: Pay up or these politically influential people could make things go badly for Sovereign.
Take case to the media
In the July 30, 2007 letter Mr Crawley told Ms Boag, who became involved in the claim the previous November: “You personally have stated that Bronwyn’s case will be taken to the media if her claim is not settled in a manner that is satisfactory to Bronwyn.”
Sovereign, which has denied mishandling Ms Pullar’s claim, inferred Ms Boag and/or Ms Pullar would seek to obtain media coverage detrimental to Sovereign.
“You have raised Bronwyn’s case on Radio New Zealand National and TV3’s 60 Minuteshas been appraised of the situation,” Mr Crawley told Ms Boag.
At the time, the claim being made on Ms Pullar’s behalf, which amounted to “some $14 million,” was “greatly in excess of her entitlement,” according to Mr Crawley.
Despite personal representations by Sir Selwyn Cushing to ACC board members and senior executives to intervene on Ms Pullar’s behalf, Sovereign rejected the $14 million lump sum claim but is understood to have settled on a figure said by family and friends to be about $2.8 million.
Ms Boag was reported earlier this year saying she could not remember the Sovereign letter, that the List of 28 was Sovereign’s definition and she had never supplied any list.
Pullar and the List of 28
But in a statement after brief details of the Sovereign letter were made public, Ms Pullar said: “Media have speculated about the reason why John Key and other senior National Party figures were mentioned by my insurer in a letter to Michelle Boag written by one of their senior executives.
“One of my advisers has asked me to prepare a list of known people who were aware of my dispute with the insurer and who the insurer may encounter in the course of their business.
“This was in the context of us entering into negotiations to reach a confidential settlement. Provision of this list was necessary in case the insurer subsequently faced questions from these parties who had knowledge of the dispute.”
One thing several associates are sure about is that Sir Selwyn, whose name appeared in the List of 28, has Ms Pullar’s Sovereign payout invested on her behalf.
The ACC leak scandal
Ms Pullar, who comes from South Island National Party stock, is now at the centre of an Accident Compensation Corporation privacy leaking scandal after accidentally receiving emailed details of about 6700 confidential ACC client files.
The ensuing fuss sparked a wave of official investigations, a defamation claim by new ACC Minister Judith Collins and an almost unprecedented political fallout, which led to former ACC minister Nick Smith resigning, followed soon after by ACC chairman John Judge, deputy chairman John McCliskie, board member Rob Campbell and ACC chief executive Ralph Stewart.
Separate investigations by the auditor general and the privacy commissioner into circumstances surrounding the leaks are well under way, with results from both expected in late August – if not before.
Boag email to Collins
This is the email which – when leaked to selected media – made the affair public.
The email revealed ACC committed what was said to be one of New Zealand’s biggest privacy breaches when a staff member accidentally emailed about 6700 client details to Ms Pullar.
Ms Pullar received the details in August last year at a time when she wanted ACC to continue another two years’ compensation for injuries received when her bicycle hit a car in Auckland in 2002.
Drinking before accident alleged
Hong Kong-based lawyer Cathy Odgers – skeptical of the extent of her friend’s injuries – said they were received after they had been out drinking in Auckland the night before.
In a subsequent email to NBR Ms Pullar said she had only one drink that night.
Some years earlier, according to a family member, she is said to have received about £30,000 compensation after a pallet fell on her in London while she was working either for Zespri or the Apple and Pear Marketing Board.
A person who worked with Ms Pullar at the time said it was a forklift truck which “knocked” her while she was inspecting a produce distribution centre outside London and it was believed by workmates she received compensation from the forklift company. “It was about 1996 or 1997, after she worked in the US. She was working for Zespri at the time and came home with a limp and a walking stick,” the former colleague said.
When asked earlier by NBRabout the London incident and payment, Ms Pullar would not confirm the amount or if it was Zespri she sued.
In July 2008, Ms Pullar put her company Wynar – incorporated in 2000 – into liquidation after it ceased trading and she resolved to wind it up.
A well-placed party insider said an ambitious Ms Pullar might have felt she was in line for a top communications job when her friend Michelle Boag became party president for one year in 2001.
What the Boag email says
Ms Boag’s email – published on NBR ONLINE as Raw Data – gives details of Ms Pullar’s ACC claim and circumstances surrounding her receiving the ACC client files.
Ms Boag spoke of years of “extensive mishandling of Bronwyn’s claim” at a time just after Ms Pullar approached an unidentified ACC board member, and senior managers Phil Murch and Hans Verbene met Ms Boag and Ms Pullar to discuss her continued receipt of ACC.
In the email Ms Boag says this meeting, in December 2011, was to “come to a reasonable settlement on the way forward.”
Ms Boag said Ms Pullar wanted recognition she was unable to work a full time week but wanted ACC to allow her two years to get on with trying to re-establish her consultancy business.
Ms Pullar also asked for the privacy breach to be investigated.
Ms Boag said it was verbally agreed with Messrs Murch and Verbene that Ms Pullar would return the document containing the ACC client details.
In a letter eight days later, Mr Murch allowed Ms Pullar one year to re-establish her business rather than two, which Ms Boag said was not regarded as sufficient.
Boag says what she wants
It was here Ms Boag cut to the chase and told Ms Collins about conditions they wanted met before Ms Pullar would return the private ACC client details.
“While Mr Murch asked for the return of the data,” Ms Boag told Ms Collins, “he did not acknowledge that this would be contingent on reaching an agreement acceptable to both parties …”
Did that mean Ms Pullar would not return the thousands of sensitive ACC client details unless ACC agreed to her demands for more money?
What would happen if ACC did not agree to pay her for another two years?
There appears to have been a condition attached to the return of the client details.
More unanswered questions
Ms Pullar has been portrayed by some media as a powerless victim up against a heartless ACC juggernaut. She clearly has some major issues with ACC.
But why did she not promptly return the details of the ACC clients – material sent to her by mistake which she knew she was not entitled to have or use – to ACC as soon as she found out she had them?
Why did her possession of those client details play any part in Ms Pullar’s talks with ACC about her own claim?
Did Ms Pullar see herself as lucky to have in her camp a friend with such influential political connections as Ms Boag, a former National Party president and skilled public relations spin doctor?
What was the motive behind the List of 28 which confronted Sovereign Insurance in 2007, when Ms Pullar wanted a $14 million payout?
Were they just mates or a hand-picked line-up of influential political and business heavy-weights who might make things go bad for Sovereign if it did not bow to Ms Pullar’s demands?
What can be made of the role of Michelle Boag in the whole affair?