A Florida jury awarded $70.6 million to Samantha Baca, a former stewardess on the Endless Summer yacht in connection with a claim that the boat’s owner failed to protect her from being sexually assaulted by a co-worker in February 2015.

The $70.6 million award included $70,000 in lost wages, $4.2 million in lost future wages, $290,050 in past and future medical expenses, and $66 million for physical and emotional pain and suffering.  Baca was sexually assaulted by Rafal Dowgwillowicz-Nowicki in February 2015 while the yacht was docked in Ft. Lauderdale.  The case is Baca v. Island Girl Ltd., Case No. CACE-16-003324, in the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida.

According to the complaint, Island Girl, the yacht’s owner, never conducted a background check on Dowgwillowicz-Nowicki, and the company failed to enforce its rule prohibiting crew members from returning to the boat intoxicated.  The complaint alleged that Island Girl failed to perform adequate background checks on its crew and accused Island Girl of “negligently hiring, selecting and retaining crew members with dangerous propensities.”  During trial, Baca’s attorney argued that Island Girl should have known that Dowgwillowicz-Nowicki was unfit for his duties “and/or posed a risk of perpetrating unwanted sexual contact” against the victim.

This verdict serves as a stark reminder to employers of the potential high cost of failing to comply with hiring requirements and that background checks continue to play an important role in ensuring the safety of employees.  The case also restates the importance of companies’ policies and procedures requiring and governing background checks.

Troutman Sanders frequently assists clients in reviewing background check policies and procedures and advising clients on implementing compliant processes.