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Talkers

March 17, 2008

Riverboat casino lawsuit seeks damages under maritime law

ELIZABETH — A woman who claims she has suffered medical problems caused by flea bites she received while working for Caesars Indiana is suing the floating casino under federal maritime law.

Attorneys for Tina Conder say she is covered under the law — which provides substantially higher benefits than state workers compensation statutes — because the casino is a boat.

But Caesars lawyers have argued that the riverboat no longer transports cargo or crew, so it shouldn't be considered a marine vessel in navigation. For nearly six years, the riverboat has seldom moved from its Harrison County dock.

The case is now before the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Conder, who became a dealer at Caesars in 2003, says she suffered disabling health problems from flea bites on her legs, arms, head and torso. The bites covered parts of her body with blisters that filled with fluid, and she said she was diagnosed with a blood disorder. She is seeking unspecified damages against the southern Indiana casino.

Conder's lawyers say the stakes are high because the case could determine how American gambling boats are regulated.

"We do think it's an extremely important case because of the potential precedent," said Karl Truman of Jeffersonville, one of Conder's attorneys.

Conder sued in April 2005 seeking damages for medical expenses, legal fees and pain and suffering. Casino workers have seldom prevailed in past cases invoking maritime law, but a local judge concluded Conder was covered. Caesars appealed, and the Court of Appeals is expected to rule sometime this year.

Caesars spokeswoman Judy Hess said casino policy prohibits discussing pending litigation.

In a motion filed with the case, Caesars lawyers noted that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago rejected an Illinois casino worker's attempt to claim benefits under federal maritime law. The court said that the boat was an "indefinitely moored dockside casino" so it no longer qualified as a vessel in navigation.

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