MACHIAS — A Cherryfield businessman who operates tour boat and ferry services on Mount Desert Island and Eastport has been ordered to pay $1.89 million in damages to a female relative who claims he sexually assaulted her when she was a young girl.
The decision Tuesday by Justice Donald Alexander follows a civil trial in Machias brought by the plaintiff against Steven Pagels. Pagels is the owner of Downeast Windjammer Cruises, which includes the Bar Harbor-based four-masted schooner Margaret Todd. He also operates other tourist vessels and a ferry running between Southwest Harbor and the Cranberry Isles.
The lawsuit against Pagels was filed in July 2012. He has not been charged with any criminal actions related to the case.
In the four-count complaint, the woman accused Pagels of sexual assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress through sexual abuse, and negligent and reckless infliction of emotional distress.
During the trial, the victim, who now is 28, testified she had been sexually assaulted by Pagels beginning when she was seven years old and continuing until after she reached the age of 15. The assaults, she said, took place at Pagel’s home in Cherryfield, at his office, in his vehicle, on his boats and at a rented home in Florida.
In his decision, Alexander states that Pagels’ “conduct was so extreme and outrageous as to exceed all possible bounds of decency and must be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable.” As a result, Pagels’ actions caused severe emotional distress which led to mental heath issues, including a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse, Alexander wrote.
In court, Pagels, through his attorney, Daniel Pileggi of Ellsworth, claimed the woman fabricated the allegations as the result of her mental health issues. Alexander found otherwise, stating that the underlying mental health issue is post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the “years of degradation, sexual assault and rapes” she had endured.
Pagels also asserted that some of the woman’s conditions, injuries and medical expenses had been caused by automobile accidents or assaults by some of her boyfriends. Again, Alexander disagreed, writing that Pagels failed to provide his burden of proof that the damages were attributable to anything other than the abuse she suffered through his actions.
During the non-jury trial, another woman testified that Pagels had sexual contact with her from the time she was between 14 and 18 years of age. A deposition from a third woman indicated that Pagels had made sexual advances toward her when she was a minor.
The $1.89 million in damages Alexander ordered Pagels to pay includes $1.3 million in general damages, almost $88,600 in special damages and $500,000 in punitive damages.
A call placed to Pileggi for comment was not returned by press time.