Appeals Court rules President Casino owner faces liability

Published 11:59 pm Saturday, February 2, 2008

A federal appeals court has ruled federal maritime laws do not protect Silver Slipper Casino Venture from liability for damage caused when the President Casino was torn from its moorings during Hurricane Katrina and damaged a nearby hotel.

In 2006, Silver Slipper took pre-emptive legal action by asking a federal court to exonerate or limit its liability after Katrina “caused the President Casino to be torn from its moorings and washed ashore and caused to collide with the Biloxi Beachfront Hotel” along U.S. Highway 90.

U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. dismissed the lawsuit in 2007 at the request of the hotel’s owners, Eli Investments LLC.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Guirola ruled that because the President Casino was indefinitely moored in a marina, received electricity and water from land-based sources, and was not practically capable of being transported over water, it was not a “vessel” under maritime laws.

Silver Slipper, which owned the President Casino, argued to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Katrina changed the rules.

Silver Slipper argued that regardless of whether the President would have been considered a vessel while moored in the marina, Katrina showed it was capable of being used for transportation over navigable waters. That meant the President was a vessel for purposes of maritime law protections, said Silver Slipper.

On Thursday, the 5th Circuit upheld Guirola’s ruling.

The 5th Circuit said it had ruled in earlier cases that a “floating casino was no longer a vessel where it was moored to the shore in a semi-permanent or indefinite manner.”

“The unfortunate fact that Hurricane Katrina blew the casino across a highway and into a hotel did not suddenly transform a non-vessel into a practically navigable watercraft,” the 5th Circuit said.

Thursday’s ruling was issued by a panel of three 5th Circuit judges — Thomas M. Reavley, Fortunato P. Benavides and Jennifer Walker Elrod.