Almost 200 former police officers in limbo for several years over their permanent disability compensation claims could have an answer in less than six months.
Global insurer MetLife confirmed to the Mercury this week it had boosted the number of assessors assigned to the Police Blue Ribbon Fund claims and was confident all outstanding Total and Permanent Disability claims would be finalised by July.
"We believe that with the additional resources now applied to assessing outstanding claims, all claims will be assessed well inside the proposed time frame of six months," MetLife said.
The news has been welcomed by former police officers suffering post-traumatic stress disorder who believe delays in finalising their clams have exacerbated their conditions.
Slater and Gordon principal lawyer John Cox, who heads the firm's police compensation team, said he cautiously welcomed Metlife's commitment.
"Whilst many remain angry at the manner in which their claims have been processed, there was support for MetLife's commitment and hope that the long-standing claims could finally be determined one way or another," Mr Cox said.
One client said the news was good but "doesn't excuse what they've done to me with the excessive, intrusive video surveillance and the ridiculous years of delay I have endured".
"But this does feel like there's a light at the end of the tunnel and I'm relieved at the prospect of having my claim resolved within the next few months."
Mr Cox said MetLife, to date, had "not properly or adequately addressed this issue, which has continued to cause extreme distress to my clients' and their families' aggravations to their symptoms and attempts at recovery".
He said there was evidence the delay had led to suicides of former police waiting for their claims to be assessed by MetLife.
Earlier this month, Mr Cox called for the establishment of an independent panel to finalise approximately 260 police compensation claims before another life was lost to suicide. It was one of numerous recommendations made by Slater and Gordon.
"The circumstances that these former police officers find themselves in needs to be addressed as quickly as possible and we cannot as a society simply accept the suicide of one more former police officer waiting for justice," Mr Cox told the Mercury.
He said the majority of claimants, many from the Illawarra region, had been waiting for more than two years for a decision, while some had been waiting up to four years.
A panel could have the claims finalised within six months, he said.
MetLife rejected the suggestion for a panel, saying: "We believe that with the additional resources now applied to assessing outstanding claims, all claims will be assessed well inside the proposed time frame of six months suggested."
Mr Cox said: "Whilst MetLife rejected our call for the establishment of the independent panel, on grounds that we don't necessarily concur with, we do acknowledge and welcome the commitment it has given to finalise these claims within the first half of this year, if not before.
"Given this commitment however, it is incumbent upon MetLife that it meets its clear commitment and assesses every single claim prior to the first of July.
"Anything less than this, given its comments, is unacceptable and will cause immense further distress to those claimants involved."
Maurice Blackburn senior associate Josh Mennen said MetLife's commitment to a six-month time frame was too little too late.
"These are what we call legacy claims, which have been outstanding from the period 2005 to 2011. MetLife has had ample time to assess them," Mr Mennen said.
"If they thought they could decline them, you can bet they would have. Instead, for years they have been trying to test and second guess the supportive evidence."
Mr Mennen said MetLife was going through a filtering process.
"They know as a commercial entity that a certain number of claimants will drop their cases if it gets too hard and it will save them hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"That leads to a clear injustice."
Mr Mennen echoed Mr Cox's calls for an independent claims assessment process because "they [MetLife] have demonstrated they are incapable of assessing these claims fairly and without bias".
MetLife was the Total and Permanent Disability insurer to the Police Blue Ribbon Insurance Scheme, operated by superannuation fund First State Super Trustee Corporation from 2005 to 2011.
In 2012, the NSW government replaced the scheme and new cover was issued by TAL Life.
MetLife said it would continue working directly with the Police Commissioner and his team, First State Super and other parties to ensure "all remaining genuine claims are assessed and paid as soon as possible".
MetLife stressed it sought to assess all claims with "integrity, professionalism and promptness".
"Total and Permanent Disability insurance is a discrete insurance protection designed to assist people in exceptionally difficult circumstances if they find themselves unable to ever work again in any capacity due to illness or injury," the spokesman said.
"As at December 2014, MetLife has received over 700 Total and Permanent Disability claims from former NSW Police officers who had been medically discharged and who claim Total and Permanent Disability arising from post-traumatic stress disorder during our PBRI [Police Blue Ribbon Insurance Scheme] contract period.
"We have paid out more than $156 million in benefits relating to these claims," the spokesman said.
MetLife said the volume had been reduced to less than 200 as at January 2015.
"Claims related to post-traumatic stress disorder are extremely complex and each claim must be assessed thoroughly, with advice from independent medical and other specialists," the spokesman said.
Responding to MetLife's statements, Mr Cox said: "The amount of money paid out to date in claims is completely irrelevant to those former officers waiting for their claims to be paid.
"MetLife is not a charity, it was paid millions and millions of dollars by those officers in premiums."
He said the reference to "genuine" claims was also another slight on claimants.
"The incidence of fraud in these matters I would suggest is absolutely minute."