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Maritime law covers riverboat workers: Court


DES MOINES, Iowa--The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that riverboat casino workers injured on the job are subject to benefits provided under the federal Jones Act and not those awarded by the Iowa Division of Workers' Compensation.

The decision Friday involved the consolidated claims of a slot machine attendant, a "banker" and a floor host, records show. The ruling resolved whether riverboat casino workers are "seamen," which lower Iowa courts had split on and courts in other states have struggled with.

The state's workers compensation commissioner originally ruled that the commission had jurisdiction to award benefits because the boats were not "vessels in navigation." They only cruised incidentally to meet the legal requirements of maintaining a gambling license, the commissioner found. Therefore, the workers were not seamen and not subject to the Jones Act. A district court affirmed that finding, and the casinos appealed.

An appeals court reversed the ruling and the Supreme Court agreed, finding that under the Jones Act a seaman contributes to the function of a vessel or its mission.

"It is undisputed that the mission of these riverboats was to provide gambling for its patrons and that these claimants contributed to that function," the high court wrote in its opinion.

The Supreme Court remanded the case to dismiss the workers comp claims.