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Riverboat not covered by Jones Act

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A casino riverboat that is indefinitely moored to the shore isn't considered a vessel in navigation under the federal Jones Act, so a riverboat worker can't bring a claim for compensation of injuries under the act, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

In RDI/Caesar's Riverboat Casino, Inc and M/V Glory of Rome v. Tina Conder, No. 31A04-0802-CV-40, Caesar's Riverboat Casino appealed the trial court order granting Tina Conder's motion for partial summary judgment under the Jones Act and denying Caesar's motion to dismiss her complaint. Conder worked as a table games dealer in the casino beginning in 2003 and was repeatedly bitten by fleas during her employment there. She claims the large doses of steroids used to treat the bites caused her to have a heart attack. She filed a complaint against Caesar's seeking compensation for her injuries based on the Jones Act, or as a Sieracki seaman.

The Court of Appeals looked to other jurisdictions in determining that indefinitely moored riverboats aren't covered under the Jones Act. The riverboats fail the first part of the U.S. Supreme Court's two-prong test for determining whether an employee is a Jones Act seaman because the riverboats aren't "vessels in navigation."

The Caesar's riverboat has been moored and stationary since August 2002 and the casino's director of marine operations testified the riverboat isn't transporting passengers, cargo, or equipment on the river anymore and is now a platform to conduct gaming activities.

The judges don't agree with Conder's argument that because the Coast Guard continues to inspect the riverboat and that Caesar's hasn't given up its Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection, the riverboat is a vessel of navigation under the Jones Act. Many other courts have considered indefinitely moored casinos that were registered with and inspected by the Coast Guard and ruled they aren't vessels in navigation, wrote Chief Judge John Baker.

The ship owner's intent with the ship, which in this case is to have the ship indefinitely moored, is part and parcel of the nature of the ship, the judge continued. The intent to never sail again leads to a conclusion that the Jones Act doesn't apply.

The appellate court reversed the trial court in part and remanded with instructions to dismiss Conder's Jones Act claim with prejudice and for further proceedings on her Sieracki seaman claim.

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