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Manus Island detention centre social worker wins compensation after sexual assault


Compensation Senior Associate, Lisa Robertson, shares her experience in fighting against a billion-dollar company to uphold the legal rights of a social worker who was assaulted at the Manus Island Detention Centre.

A Gold Coast woman who suffered severe psychiatric injuries as the result of being sexually assaulted at work while looking after the welfare of the detainees at the Manus Island Detention Centre has won her claim for workers’ compensation.

It has been a gruelling David and Goliath battle for our client, Fiona Wills, who was successful in her fight against billion-dollar company Broadspectrum Pty Ltd for compensation worth $28,600 to cover medical and other expenses.

In May 2014, Ms Wills was fulfilling her dream of humanitarian work at the regional process centre on Manus Island, when she was asked to go to a compound to see a male transferee, only to be approached and assaulted by another man.

Ms Wills was unable to return to work and applied for compensation for injuries, including PTSD. In response, Broadspectrum mounted four appeals against our client over three years.

READ MORE: Worker wins compensation after being sexually assaulted on Manus Island, Gold Coast Bulletin

Ms Wills was subject to two psychiatric assessments, two medical appeal panels, and two sets of Supreme Court proceedings in the course of her action taken against an opponent who seemingly strung out the court process while exacerbating her psychiatric injuries.

Ms Wills’ matter had a lengthy history, but in the most recent legal proceedings, Broadspectrum had been unable to accept the extent to which Ms Wills’ psychiatric condition was caused by the sexual assault. They argued that a Workers’ Compensation Commission Medical Appeal Panel decision regarding her psychiatric injury was unlawful.

On December 17, 2019, the NSW Supreme Court dismissed this appeal, finalising Ms Wills’ claim for permanent impairment compensation.
The findings can be found here: Broadspectrum (Australia) Pty Ltd v Wills [2019] NSWSC 1797.

Denying liability: a common trend for denying damages for injuries in QLD and NSW

Ms Wills’ claim for compensation was complex and difficult, made even more challenging by the sheer onslaught of legal challenges made against her as a vulnerable person in the justice system.

In separate proceedings, Attwood Marshall Lawyers fought so that Ms Wills could retain her weekly compensation benefits and medical expenses in circumstances where she was too sick to work. Those proceedings were successful.

READ MORE: Manus guard pleads with Morrison to settle claim before taking life

Ms Wills’ case confirms what most experienced personal injury lawyers already know – employers and insurance companies have a standard practice of denying liability for genuine claims, and this is particularly true for self-insurers who fight tooth and nail to protect their reputation regardless of legal merit.

This is designed to cause the maximum amount of pressure in the hope that the claimant will simply give up on their claim due to the delay and stress, and a common tactic in the following types of claims, both in Queensland and New South Wales:

  • Bullying and harassment
  • Sexual harassment in the workplace
  • PTSD from exposure to stressful and emergency events

Tragically, many injured workers languish during the court ordeal, and for some, the battle is too much.

In her own words: Fiona Wills bravely shares her story

Ms Wills has shared her story to raise awareness for people suffering a personal injury at work:

“I went to work on Manus Island as a social worker because I wanted to help detainees with their welfare. Before my assault, I was outgoing, independent and confident. I did things on my own — and now I’m too scared to leave the house, and I’m fairly anxious most of the time.

“The legal process has been very stressful and taken a toll on my life. I am relieved that this claim has come to an end. I am sharing my story in the hope that it will raise awareness for other women who have experienced sexual assault or harassment in the workplace, to speak out and come forward.

“I want to raise awareness for workplace injuries so that companies and insurers are more compassionate towards people who have been injured at work, in particular to people who have suffered psychological injuries. The company made me feel like it was my fault, that I had done something wrong. The company should have shown some compassion toward me.”

How can Attwood Marshall Lawyers help?

Attwood Marshall Lawyers is a leading Compensation Law firm renowned for our expertise in complex matters. Led by Compensation Law (Qld) Accredited Specialist, Partner Jeremy Roche, our dedicated team practices exclusively in compensation law. We are a proud, family-owned law firm, who care about their clients. We possess the expertise to battle the most powerful litigants in complex personal injury law cases.

Attwood Marshall Lawyers compensation law department delivers exceptional client services and legal results on a ‘No Win, No Fee’ basis. We help injured workers to enforce their rights in a broad range of claims against formidable opponents. We have offices in Robina, Coolangatta and Kingscliff, and can also make home and hospital visits. If you need help fighting for compensation, against a self-insurer, insurance company, or have been rejected for a compensation claim in QLD or NSW, Attwood Marshall Lawyers can help.

READ MORE: WorkCover denied my claim

(Photo: Glenn Hampson/News Pix licence: NP1CT569062)

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Jeremy Roche - Partner - Compensation Law

Jeremy Roche

Compensation Law

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The contents of this article are considered accurate as at the date of publication. The information contained in this article does not constitute legal advice and is of a general nature only. Readers should seek legal advice about their specific circumstances. 

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