MACHIAS, Maine — A judge ruled on Tuesday in favor of a Washington County woman who sued Cherryfield businessman Steven Pagels, accusing him of sexually abusing and assaulting her when she was a child.
Justice Donald G. Alexander awarded the 28-year-old plaintiff — who is not being identified by the Bangor Daily News because she is a victim — nearly $2 million in damages.
Alexander awarded the woman $88,594 in special damages, $1,300,000 in general damages and $500,000 in punitive damages — a total of $1,888,594 plus costs and interests. Special damages include medical expenses, future treatment and counseling, and lost earnings, while general damages are for pain, suffering, mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life.
Pagels, 63, operates a charter boat business — Downeast Windjammer Cruises — that Alexander described as “substantial.” The business includes several boats, some of them worth more than $1 million each, and has many employees.
Alexander, a Maine Supreme Judicial Court justice who presided over the case in Machias District Court, took the case under advisement on Oct. 1 after a three-day nonjury trial of the civil lawsuit, which was filed against Pagels in 2012.
The plaintiff testified, sometimes in detail during the trial, about how she was molested and sexually assaulted by Pagels for a period of about nine years beginning when she was about 7.
“It’s a wonderful decision for her,” Machias attorney Rebecca Irving, who represented the plaintiff, said Tuesday. “Just wonderful.”
“[She] is gratified by that decision because it validates her in a way that could not have occurred otherwise,” she added.
Irving said her client battled “concerted and relentless attempts” by Pagels to discredit her over the years and displayed “a courage I don’t see often.”
“The decision itself is so well grounded in both the facts and the law that any appeal would be more a delaying tactic than anything else,” said Irving.
Pagels, who had not read the judge’s decision but knew of it, said Tuesday that he would confer with his attorney, Daniel Pileggi of Ellsworth, about whether to appeal.
“I will continue to defend myself with the last breath in my body against these false allegations,” he said.
When a reporter pointed out that the judge deemed the plaintiff’s testimony credible while his denials were not, Pagels said, “I think that’s very, very unfortunate.”
“I do feel eventually the truth will come out,” said Pagels.
The plaintiff made four legal claims in her lawsuit. The four claims — repeated sexual assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress through sexual abuse, gross negligence and recklessness in inflicting emotional distress, and malice — were proven by a preponderance of the evidence, Alexander ruled.
“The defendant’s sexual assaults and degradation destroyed plaintiff’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth,” said Alexander in his decision. “His assaults and degradation caused her drug abuse, her addictions, her bad relationship choices and her mental conditions that have rendered her unable to work or further her education.”
In calculating damages, Alexander found that all of the plaintiff’s mental health conditions and problems, as well as the self-destructive behaviors that might have aggravated them, were caused by the “degradation and sexual assaults” inflicted by Pagels and his “callous treatment” of the plaintiff.
Through his attorney, Pagels contended that the woman’s mental health problems would have been manifest regardless of his sexual assaults upon her.
“The plaintiff’s primary mental health condition, causing most of her difficulties, is post-traumatic stress disorder,” the judge found. “The cause of that disorder is the years of degradation, sexual assaults and rapes that the plaintiff endured at the hands of the defendant.”
Alexander called the plaintiff’s descriptions of the sexual assaults she suffered “generally credible” and added that Pagels’ denials of committing any sexual assaults were not credible.
During closing arguments in the trial, Irving drew a timeline on a chalkboard with years and names of the plaintiff and three other women who were referred to during the trial as childhood victims of Pagels. They all testified or gave depositions alleging sexual abuse, sexual assault, rape and attempted rape, noted Irving.
Pagels, who listened impassively to the closing statements, “has no compunction about repeated … sexual abuse” of girls, argued Irving.
“He demonstrated a pattern of dominance and used fear and physical force with respect to that dominance,” said Irving. She said that Pagels, who has never been charged with a crime in connection with this civil case, needed to be held accountable because “He’s a repeat offender, and he will offend again because there have been no consequences to any of his actions.”