A 23-year-old Boynton Beach woman has been awarded nearly $71 million in connection with a brutal rape that occurred while she was working aboard a luxury yacht docked at a Fort Lauderdale marina three years ago.
A Broward County Circuit Court jury deliberated for roughly three hours on Monday before agreeing the owner of the 150-foot yacht Endless Summer failed to provide basic security that could have prevented the young woman from being attacked by a drunken deckhand, said attorney Brad Edwards, who represented the woman during the weeklong trial.
Further traumatized when her attacker, Rafal Dowgwillowicz-Nowicki, received only a two-year prison sentence, the woman will be helped in moving on by the whopping verdict in the civil case, Edwards said.
“She’s just overwhelmed that someone has recognized all that she’s been through and all she’s going to go through,” he said. The Palm Beach Post is not identifying the woman because of the nature of the attack.
While she is receiving counseling, she still sleeps with the lights on and keeps a machete and baseball bat at her side. “This trial was the real beginning of healing for her,” Edwards said.
Miami attorney Michael Pennekamp, who represented the company that owned the yacht, wasn’t available for comment.
In February 2015, the woman was working as a stewardess on the yacht owned by a corporation formed by Maryland resident Michael Pool when Dowgwillowicz-Nowicki burst into her cabin after spending the night drinking at a Fort Lauderdale bar, Edwards said.
Evidence was presented that for more than an hour the woman screamed for help, while Dowgwillowicz-Nowicki attacked her and threatened to kill her.
She was unable to summon help from a captain aboard the boat because the intercom wasn’t working and she hadn’t been given a walkie-talkie to use for emergencies, Edwards said.
The captain, Kurt Tomececk, testified that he didn’t think she needed one. Even though she was required to sleep on the boat, the captain said he considered her a day laborer.
“It’s safety 101, so in any emergency — fire, someone is injured — there’s an ability to call for help,” Edwards said. “She was screaming for her life, literally, and no one heard her.”
Edwards also said no background checks were done on Dowgwillowicz-Nowicki before he was hired off a boat that was also docked at Universal Marina.
After he served his two-year prison sentence, the 45-year-old Dowgwillowicz-Nowicki was deported to his native Poland.
Edwards said he asked the jury to award the woman $25 million. He speculated the jury awarded her nearly three times that amount because the lapses were so egregious. Even though Pool spent an estimated $10 million for the yacht and was spending another $10 million on upgrades, he didn’t take steps to assure the crew had tools they needed to be safe.
Further, he said, Pool never contacted her after the attack. Tomececk advised the woman to come back to work, telling her, “You should get back on the horse you fell off of,” Edwards said. She did not return to the job.
After attorneys’ fees and court costs are deducted, Edwards estimated the woman would receive about $50 million. Pool could appeal the verdict. But, Edwards said, he would be forced to post a $71 million bond.
In the meantime, the woman is trying to rebuild her life. While she dreamed of working as an engineer on a boat, lingering panic attacks have forced her to abandon those plans. She is working for her father, a veterinarian.
“This is somebody who is incredibly smart and her life is completely turned upside down with no certainty that it’s going to correct itself,” he said.