Riverboat Casino Qualifies as Vessel for Jones Act Purposes
A split Louisiana appellate court ruled that a riverboat casino was a vessel for purposes of the Jones Act, despite its own precedent to the contrary.
Case: Caldwell v. St. Charles Gaming Co., Nos. 18-868 and 18-915, 07/03/2019, published. Facts: Don Caldwell worked for the St. Charles Gaming Co. and sustained an alleged injury on the job while operating a scissor lift on a riverboat casino, the Grand Palais Casino (Grand Palais), moored in Lake Charles, on April 9, 2015. Don and his wife, Sheronda Caldwell (Plaintiffs), filed suit against his employer, St. Charles Gaming Company, L.L.C. (Defendant), under the Jones Act. The Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on October 27, 2017, on the basis that Don was not a Jones Act seaman at the time of the incident, because he had no connection to a vessel in navigation that was substantial in nature and was never exposed to the perils of the sea. Likewise, the Plaintiffs filed a cross motion for summary judgment on the basis that the Grand Palais was a vessel at the time of the incident for the purposes of their Jones Act claim. Both motions were denied by the trial court following a hearing on September 17, 2018.
The parties appeared before the court on writs seeking review of the trial court's rulings in July 2019. The Plaintiffs conclude that according to the U.S. Supreme Court, a watercraft that is capable of transportation, but has been docked indefinitely and not removed from navigation, is a vessel in navigation for the purposes of maritime law. Stewart, 543 U.S. 481; Lozman, 568 U.S. 115. Further, the Plaintiffs urge that a vessel must be permanently disabled to be deemed removed from navigation and no longer be considered a vessel. The defendant does not dispute that the Grand Palais was a vessel prior to August 2001. Therefore, the Plaintiffs contend that it remains a vessel until it is removed from navigation. At the time of the accident, the Grand Palais had not been disabled, removed from the water, or sunk to the bottom of the lake, enclosed in a cofferdam. The Plaintiffs add that the defendant works diligently to maintain the Grand Palais in a fully-operational condition as required by law.
This court finds the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in Stewart, 543 U.S. 481, and Lozman, 568 U.S. 115, to be controlling. As such, we find that the Grand Palais was a vessel at the time of the incident; thus, the trial court should have granted the Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. Accordingly, the Plaintiffs' writ is granted, and the defendant's writ is denied.
View the decision here.