Are Riverboat Casinos Jones Act Vessels?

While Louisiana’s offshore industry is known thanks to the state’s oil industry, not every Louisianan offshore worker is on an oil rig. In fact, many residents of Louisiana are employed on one of the state’s many riverboat casinos.

Louisiana is known for its riverboat casinos, which are old-fashioned paddlewheel boats like you might see in a Western movie or television show. Many of today's riverboat casinos are docked and no longer sail in the rivers where they're stationed. They operate similarly to traditional casinos and may offer a variety of games for gamblers, such as craps, blackjack, and poker. They also offer dining and live entertainment. Of the 63 riverboat casinos in operation in the United States today, 15 are in Louisiana.

While oil rigs workers have been able to make Jones Act claims after an offshore accident, it hasn’t always been clear if riverboat casino workers can do the same. Looking at a recent case might help us understand if riverboat casinos can be considered Jones Act vessels, thus entitling their workers to the same rights and benefits as seamen.

Why Would a Riverboat Casino Worker Want to Make a Jones Act Claim?

Being able to make a Jones Act claim is important for workers for a variety of reasons. First, it entitles them to maintenance and cure from their employer. This means that their employer must pay for an injured employee’s medical care (cure) and living expenses (maintenance) that they need because of a work-related injury. Second, being able to make a Jones Act claim would help an injured riverboat worker seek compensation for other damages caused by their accident that go beyond their lost wages and medical treatment.

A riverboat casino worker who is able to file a Jones Act claim may be able to seek compensation for injuries arising from any level of negligence by their employer. They may also be able to file a claim based on an unseaworthy vessel. Even if a riverboat casino is docked, it is on the water. If it is improperly maintained and is not seaworthy, this can cause serious injuries to workers and patrons alike. Riverboat casino owners should be held accountable for failing to keep their employees safe, and Jones Act claims can accomplish just that.

What Is a Jones Act Vessel & Seaman?

Jones Act claims are only available for those who can prove they meet broad requirements. First, a worker needs to be employed on something that is considered a vessel under maritime law.

According to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), a vessel is “every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.” Second, according to SCOTUS, a seaman is anyone who works on a vessel and contributes in some way to “the vessel’s function or mission.” To find out more about the SCOTUS definition of a Jones Act vessel, read our blog on the subject.

Do Riverboat Casino Workers Satisfy These Requirements?

In a recent case, a worker filed a case against their employer, the owner of the Grand Palais Casino. The plaintiff was a scissor-lift operator who sustained injuries performing their job. Initially, a panel of the Third Circuit asserted that the casino was not a vessel because of its primary use as a dockside gambling location rather than transportation. However, during a hearing before all the judges of the Third Circuit—known as an en banc hearing—the court decided that the riverboat was a Jones Act vessel. So, the worker was a Jones Act seaman since they were contributing to the vessel’s main function as a casino.

In the decision, the court said that its reasoning was based on the fact that the law says that Jones Act vessels are vessels that “are capable of being used as a means of transportation on water.”

While the Grand Palais Casino was not actively moving, its ability to do so made it a Jones Act vessel. The Third Circuit didn’t expressly reveal why the ship’s mooring didn’t disqualify it as capable of transportation, but it did say that the casino was “connected to the dock by temporary connections and gangways designed to be lifted and retracted.”

In other words, it seems that the court decided that the riverboat’s mooring was not permanent enough to disqualify it as a Jones Act vessel capable of moving over the water.

What Should You Do After a Riverboat Casino Accident?

If you’re a worker who has sustained injuries performing your duties on a riverboat casino, you should do everything you can to get the best medical care and the financial support you'll need to put the pieces of your life back together. Riverboat casino injuries can be severe and significantly inhibit your ability to work and provide for yourself and your family. Filing a Jones Act claim or taking other legal action may be the best way for you to get answers and hold at-fault parties accountable.

To determine if you can make a Jones Act claim, you should speak with an attorney from Arnold & Itkin. We’re ready to listen to what happened at no cost and help you decide your next steps. A member of our team is ready to talk when you call us at (888) 346-5024.

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