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Why are riverboat casinos not considered vessels under maritime law?

On Behalf of | May 18, 2020 | Maritime Law |

Under the Jones Act, if a seafarer suffers injuries upon a vessel, he or she may have an entitlement to various benefits. A recent case involving a riverboat casino posed a question about the status of riverboat casino employees as sailors. Workers can only claim benefits when they work aboard a vessel in navigation.

Riverboat casinos were once navigable vessels, but a recent ruling over the Grand Palais states that the riverboat casino no longer a vessel in navigation, explains the National Law Review. What reasoning does the Supreme Court have for this decision?

Facts of the case

The case involved a technician who suffered injuries while employed by the Grand Palais Casino. He suffered injuries during a collapse of the gangway. A lower court raised the possibility that he may qualify for as a sailor under the Jones Act. This would entitle the employee to maintenance and cure benefits and provide him with the ability to sue his employer. The  U.S. Supreme Court, however, reversed this decision.

Decision of the court

To qualify for the Jones Act, a ship’s primary purpose is transportation over water. Moored casinos have a primary purpose of gaming. The ship’s past of transportation of people over water became irrelevant. The court chose to focus on practical navigation instead of theoretical navigation. Technically, the vessel is capable of navigation, but after 14 years moored, transportation is not its primary purpose. Given that the ship also has a pavilion and hotel on land, it would take modifications to become a vessel for transportation. Hence, the Supreme Court decided that if a water craft cannot have meaningful maritime use if moored.