Casinos are playgrounds for adults. Gambling can be exciting. Slot machines, free drinks, floorshows, and interesting characters make casinos fun places to spend some of our leisure time. Yet with thousands of people visiting casinos each day all over the country, accidents are inevitable. Accidents happen in casino restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, and in the gambling areas.
Common casino accidents include:
Most casinos serve food. Whether in formal dining settings, room service, or fast food, casinos serve thousands of meals each year. Food left out too long, unsanitary conditions, and employees with unclean hands can cause food poisoning.
Slip and falls
Slip and falls are among the most common casino accidents. They occur in casino restaurants, in the gambling areas, in hotel rooms, on shuttle buses, around swimming pools, and in parking lots.
Many casinos use shuttle buses to carry patrons to and from hotels, airports, and the casino. When drivers fail to keep luggage out of the aisles or clean up spilled food and drinks quickly, patrons can easily fall. Bus steps sometimes aren’t clearly marked or the lines are worn away, causing patrons to trip and fall.
Broken slot machine chairs
Casinos normally place hundreds of chairs in front of slot machines. Because thousands of patrons sit and swivel on those chairs daily, they often break down. When the casino doesn’t regularly maintain the chairs, patrons can easily fall and suffer injuries.
Many casinos still permit patrons to smoke inside the gambling areas. When patrons aren’t careful or they’re intoxicated, they can bump into other patrons and burn them with lit cigarettes. Faulty hotel room irons and exposed electrical cords are other sources of burns. Sometimes burns can cause permanent scarring.
Because many casino patrons carry large amounts of cash, they’re likely targets for pickpockets and thieves. When casinos don’t have adequate security in parking lots and the casino itself, patrons can be sitting ducks for robbers.
Casino Liability and The Law
Casinos invite thousands of people onto their premises each day. As invitees, the law entitles casino patrons to feel safe from undue harm. As a result, courts hold casinos to a very high legal duty of care (obligation) to protect their patrons from injuries.
The courts require casinos to do everything reasonably possible to protect their patrons from foreseeable events that could result in injuries. This doesn’t mean casinos must protect their patrons from every incident that could result in injury – only from incidents a prudent and reasonable casino manager knows, or should know, could result in harm.
For example, a casino manager knows, or should know, if he doesn’t make regular inspections of the swivel chairs in front of slot machines, it’s likely someone can miss a broken chair. Broken chairs are likely to result in patron injuries.
Let’s say a patron sat down to play one of the slot machines. When she did, the chair broke and she fell on the floor, injuring her back. In this case, a casino manager’s failure to make regular inspections of the swivel chairs resulted in a foreseeable injury.
The law calls the casino’s failure to inspect the property “negligence”. The casino’s negligence was a breach of its duty of care (obligation) to protect the patron from harm. Because the casino breached (violated) its duty, the patron is entitled to compensation for her back injury and accompanying damages.
Damages include things like medical and therapy bills, out-of-pocket expenses for prescriptions, crutches, etc., lost wages, and pain and suffering (emotional distress).
What if the casino accident wasn’t foreseeable? Is the casino still liable? For example, in one of its routine inspections, an employee found a broken swivel chair in front of a slot machine. The casino placed a sign in clear view on the front of the slot machine saying “Out of Order.” A casino patron ignored the sign and sat down on the swivel chair. As he did, the chair came apart and he fell, suffering a concussion.
In this case, the courts would likely find the casino was not negligent and did not breach its duty of care to the injured patron. It just wasn’t foreseeable that a patron would read the Out of Order sign, ignore it, and sit down.
What happens when the question of foreseeability and negligence isn’t so clear? Often, injuries at casinos occur because of an intervening force. The question becomes whether the casino was negligent in allowing the intervening force to occur and whether the casino had a duty to stop it.
For example, an elderly woman was in her electric wheelchair. She had trouble negotiating the wheelchair around the various restaurant tables, and at one point knocked a patron down. According to others in the restaurant, the woman seemed incoherent. The patron wasn’t injured, so after helping the patron up, the manager went back to his office without reporting the incident.
An hour later, the same woman went into the gaming room. As she moved her wheelchair forward, she collided with a casino patron knocking her down. This time, the patron broke her hip.
Was the casino negligent in allowing the wheelchair-bound woman to move about the gaming room? Should the restaurant manager have reported the initial incident to his supervisor? Unfortunately, this is one of those injury claims where foreseeability and negligence aren’t clear. It’s likely a jury will have to decide these issues in a trial.
Casinos on Native American Territory
The law treats injury claims against casinos on Native American territory much different from claims in other parts of the country. Native Indian land is sovereign. Casinos on Native American soil almost always have immunity from civil actions brought in outside courts.
Native Indian Tribal Councils decide contested civil claims arising out of disputes on their land, not the civil courts located outside of Native American land. If you suffer injuries in a casino on Native American soil, you can still file an injury claim, but you must do so according to the rules set out by the Tribal Council in the territory where the casino is located.
There is an exception. If a corporation doing business in states located outside of Native Indian territory own and operate the casino, you can file your injury claim against that corporation.
There are attorneys who practice tribal law. They know the rules and procedures for filing injury claims within Native American territory. If you’re hurt while in a casino on Native American soil, consult an injury attorney with experience in that area.
Filing an injury claim against a casino outside of Native American territory is similar to filing an insurance claim against any other company. To succeed in your claim, you must show the casino breached its duty of care to you through negligence, and the negligence resulted in your damages.
The courts refer to it as meeting your burden of proof. It’s not that difficult to do. Meeting your burden of proof begins and ends with evidence.
Evidence – Proving Your Claim
Here’s what you need to do to secure proof:
Ask for help
Casino injuries can occur just about anywhere on the premises, in the restaurant, your hotel room, the gambling areas, a banquet room, a shuttle bus, and even in the casino’s nightclub. Documenting your casino accident is crucial.
If you’re hurt, ask to see the manager. The manager will see that you receive appropriate medical care and document your injury and its cause. If your injury is serious enough to require emergency medical services, ask him to call 911. In the interim, explain exactly what happened. Show the manager where and why your injury happened.
For example, if you were on the dance floor and slipped and fell on a broken wineglass that cut your leg, show the manager the broken glass. Don’t take any chances. You could need stitches, and if the cut is severe enough, it could have punctured a blood vessel or a tendon.
The manager should create a casino incident report. He’ll record your version of events as well as his interpretation. Although you may not see the report, the casino’s insurance company will receive a copy and rely on it during settlement negotiations.
When the paramedics arrive, they will either treat you on the spot or take you to the nearest emergency room. Don’t be a hero. If the paramedics suggest going to the hospital is appropriate, heed their advice.
The paramedics will create a patient treatment and transfer report. It serves as a link between your injury, its cause, and the emergency treatment you received. You need to request a copy of the report. The paramedics can give you one for free or for a nominal charge.
Get your hospital records
If your injury requires hospitalization, even if it’s only to the emergency room, the admitting nurse or staff attendant will create an admitting chart. Ask for a copy.
In addition, the doctor treating you will write a diagnosis of, and prognosis for your injury. The diagnosis is one of the links to the casino accident. The information goes into your medical chart. Make sure to ask for a copy. You have a right to copies of all your medical records.
Talk to witnesses
Witnesses are crucial. Family and friends make good witnesses, but independent witnesses like Good Samaritans make great witnesses. They have no personal or financial interest in the outcome of your injury claim. Consequently, insurance companies are more likely to rely on them when determining the casino’s negligence.
Ask any witnesses to write down what they saw. Any piece of paper will do. Ask them to be as detailed as possible, especially concerning the reason for your injury. It’s not necessary to notarize witness statements or have the witnesses swear to them. That’s only important if someone was to challenge the statements’ authenticity later, which isn’t likely to happen.
Imagine you were on a casino shuttle bus and the driver ran a stop sign, crashing into another car. The seat you were in had a broken seatbelt. At the point of impact, you fell forward, hitting your head on the next seat.
Ask other passengers to look at the broken seat belt and your injuries. Ask as many as you can to write down that they saw the broken seatbelt and saw you hurled forward into the next seat. Also, ask them to be clear that the shuttle bus driver ran a stop sign. The more witness statements you have, the stronger your claim will be.
Take pictures and video
Today’s cell phones are equipped with camera, video and audio capabilities. They’re excellent tools in building your injury claim. For example, if you were in front of a slot machine and the door to the machine popped open, slamming you in the knee, use your cell phone and capture the door as it is.
If you miss the opportunity, know that within minutes after reporting your injury someone will close the door. Once it’s closed, you’ve squandered a golden opportunity.
Use the audio function to record what the manager or employees have to say. An apology will go a long way as an implied admission that the door’s malfunction was the casino’s fault. These admissions make strong evidence of negligence. Remember to make sure the time and date stamp function is on.
Confirm your damages
If you don’t have damages, you don’t have an injury claim. You can’t file an insurance claim because you’re angry with the restaurant’s slow service or a casino blackjack dealer was rude. You can’t sue a casino if you’re stuck in an elevator for half an hour. You must have injuries!
Your injuries and resulting damages must be documented. Get copies of the medical charts detailing your symptoms and treatment, and the bills charged for that treatment. Also be sure to get proof of your out-of-pocket expenses like receipts for medications, bandages, crutches, and even hospital parking lot fees. Have your employer confirm on company letterhead the amount of lost wages, vacation and sick days, and any bonuses you lost due to the injury.
Do you need an attorney?
It depends on the nature of your injuries. If you suffer only minor injuries like cuts, scrapes, bruises, etc., you can probably handle the claim on your own. It will be tough to find an attorney to take your case if the total damages are less than a few thousand dollars.
If you suffer serious injuries however, such as head trauma, scarring, or back injuries, you need to hire an attorney. The stakes are too high with serious injuries for you to handle the claim yourself. An attorney brings a range of expertise to the case and can almost always get a higher settlement offer than you could alone. Most attorneys offer a free consultation and take their fee out of the final settlement amount.
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