No cover for father of eight says ACC

By Contributor

William Marupo died while snorkeling at Lottin Point on the East Cape in December 2019. Photo / Supplied.

By Qiuyi Tan Open Justice multimedia journalist, Tāmaki Makaurau

The family of a man who died while snorkelling has asked ACC for financial support saying his fatal heart attack was triggered when he panicked in rough water, and it was therefore an accidental death.

But ACC disagreed, saying William Marupo's heart attack, which happened during a social club trip to the East Coast with workmates, was from natural causes.

The case ended up in court where a judge has partially agreed with both sides but ultimately ruled on the side of ACC.

In his decision, Judge Chris McGuire said the cause of death was natural but the circumstances were likely to have been a contributing factor.

"Although it cannot be stated with certainty, it is reasonable to assume that Mr Marupo would not have died that day if he had not been subjected to the significant stress that he suffered as a result of being in the water."

He said Marupo's death in 2019 - he was 48 - was a shock to his family but ruled that it did not qualify for ACC support.

Friends tried to revive

The father of eight entered the water at Hicks Bay at 7am and friends saw him swimming around, diving under once before climbing on to a rock and taking off his fins and dive mask.

"We knew something wasn't right," one of them later said.

One of the friends swam out to Marupo who ended up in the water again.

With the help of two other friends they managed to get his unconscious body up on to some rocks where they performed CPR until the emergency helicopter arrived, but he could not be revived.

An autopsy found his death was due to ischaemic heart disease, also known as coronary artery disease, which happens when arteries are blocked by fatty build-up.

The pathologist found a segment of blockage on Marupo's left anterior descending artery, which showed his death was cardiac related, not drowning.

Disease not accident

In February 2020, ACC declined financial aid to Marupo's family because the medical evidence showed his death was caused by coronary artery disease, and not by an accident.

Marupo's partner appealed, saying he had never had any cardiovascular issues in their 18 years together.

She believed his heart attack was brought on by panic in the water while trying to get to shore in rough conditions.

A letter from his GP showed he was never at any stage diagnosed with any cardiac disease, and he also worked for the Port of Tauranga for 12 years in a dangerous job that required physical fitness.

Coroner Peter Ryan said what likely happened was Marupo had difficulty in the ocean, adding significant stress to his cardiovascular system and causing a cardiac arrest.

Coronary artery disease usually does not cause symptoms until an artery is severely narrowed or totally blocked, he said.

Predisposed to heart disease

"Most people do not know they have it until they have a medical emergency."

Being overweight and a smoker also predisposed Marupo to heart disease, the Coroner said.

Marupo's death came "completely without warning and caused profound shock and distress to his friends and family", Judge McGuire said.

"He had plainly been, until then, a hardworking man with a reasonable level of fitness and with no history of cardiovascular problems."

Under the Accident Compensation Act 2001, cover is provided for cardiovascular episodes only if it is a treatment injury, or if it is caused by abnormal or excessive physical strain at work.

"Unfortunately, in the case of Mr Marupo, the cardiovascular event which he suffered, and which took his life was not one of those for which cover was provided, under the Act," the judge said.

Open Justice was unable to reach Marupo's family for comment.