The Mississippi River that divides Illinois from Missouri is famous for its shipping industry, riverboats and riverboat casinos. Spending an evening playing blackjack or seeing a show on a floating casino can be a lot of fun. However, workers aboard these vessels are in a unique position when it comes to state and federal laws. Riverboat casinos may seem like ships, which are governed by maritime laws like the Jones Act, but depending on where they are and how they are used, those laws may not apply.
Maritime law is a unique and sometimes confusing aspect of the legal system. Laws like the Jones Act were created to protect maritime workers, since it was found that large bodies of water like rivers and oceans don’t fall under just one state’s jurisdiction. Therefore, maritime law is overseen by the federal government and provides special protections for those who work on the water. However, the definition of who technically works on the water has been interpreted and reinterpreted many times since the Jones Act became law.
What Vessels Qualify Under the Jones Act?
The Jones Act actually contains three separate federal laws that provide protections for workers who are injured on a vessel on the water. The language of the law may seem simple, but with the dozens of different kinds of watercraft on all sorts of bodies of water throughout the U.S., the federal courts have had to deal with many cases concerning the protections of the Jones Act over the years. Most often, these cases involve questions about what counts as a “vessel” and who counts as a “maritime worker”.
One of the most recent rulings about the coverage of the Jones Act concerned riverboat casinos. A bartender, for example, who works aboard a riverboat casino might seem like a mariner because his job is on a boat, which is on the water. If that bartender is injured, however, his ability to seek compensation under the Jones Act will typically depend on one thing: whether or not the riverboat casino moves.
The Jones Act applies to a riverboat casino, or any other kind of watercraft, only if it navigates the river. If it is permanently or semi-permanently docked at a marina or other port, then it is legally considered to be dry land and all state workers’ compensation laws will apply to its employees. Virtually all riverboat casinos on the Mississippi are permanently moored for this reason. The Jones Act generally provides much more protection and compensation to injured workers than many states’ workers’ compensation laws, so most casino businesses choose to avoid maritime law by keeping their riverboats docked.
Our Missouri and Illinois personal injury lawyers have experience representing injured riverboat casino workers. Call one of our offices to schedule a free consultation today.