Last Update: 01/27/16
Florida law protects people who are injured and hurt on property owned or operated by a hotel, motel, resort, spa, or casino (read more about the extent of Florida hotel premises liability law here) — except when it doesn’t.
If you are a Florida resident who likes to gamble or a Florida tourist that likes the Hard Rock Cafe franchise, then you need to understand that the laws are very, very different for you if you are injured or hurt while visiting any commercial establishment owned and operated by a recognized American Indian Tribe on reservation land.
Think this is rare? It might be in your home state or neighborhood, but here in Florida, the Seminole Tribe operates several resorts and casinos. From their website, you can learn details about visiting the following Seminole Gaming Facilities:
1. The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, Florida (with a 90,000 Sq. Ft. casino);
2. The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida (convenient to both Miami and Ft. Lauderdale)(130,000 Sq. Ft. Casino);
3. Seminole Bingo Casino in Brighton, Florida;
4. Seminole Casino in Immokalee;
5. Seminole Coconut Creek Casino.
Sovereign Immunity Defense for Injuries Sustained at Indian Casinos
Legally, the casinos owned and operated by the Seminole Indian Tribe on Seminole land are not in the State of Florida. No, they are not on Florida land and therefore, Florida state law does not apply to them.
This is a big deal for many who like to gamble since the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood offers “Vegas-style” table gambling – and is the only place in Florida (aside from cruise ships) that provides this opportunity for gamblers since table games are illegal under Florida law. (There was a big legal controversy over this, but the U.S. Department of the Interior has okayed a pact between the tribe and the Florida state government that allows it.)
If a tourist or Florida resident does not know this, it does not matter: the Florida courts recognizes that a lot of people may be unaware of the “sovereign immunity” enjoyed by the Seminole Tribe regarding injuries sustained on its casino properties. Explains the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Seminole Tribe of Florida v. McCor:
“The average tourist has no idea that her Florida constitutional rights to access to the courts and to trial by jury do not apply to any claims that may arise while she visits the hotel and casino. The Tribe itself does not post warnings that its tourist attraction is exempt from these basic Florida constitutional protections. In this case, the Seminole Tribe and, indirectly its commercial insurance company, are raising the jurisdictional bar to prevent judicial resolution of a relatively minor and defensible personal injury claim. However, they could raise the same bar for a serious wrongful death action.”
What To Do If You Are Injured or Hurt While on Indian Tribal Property – Like a Seminole Tribe Casino in Florida
The Seminole Tribe has posted its “exclusive procedure for the handling of claims” on its website. Click on the image below to read this procedure’s full text.
Filing Injury Claims Against the Seminole Tribe Is Different From Standard Florida Personal Injury Claim for Harm at Hotel
Injury claims for harm (even wrongful death) on Indian tribal property are considered as a claim being filed within a separate legal jurisdiction. Drive or walk across that property line, no matter how fun and fancy it may be, and you’ve exited the State of Florida. You’re subject to the laws of the Seminole Tribe now.
So what happens if you are seriously injured, you suffer damage to property, or a loved one dies a wrongful death while you’re there? Seminole law applies, not Florida law.
Bottom line: The Seminole Tribe requires you notify them of your injury to your body or to your property WITHIN SIX (6) MONTHS of when it happened, or you are forever barred from being compensated for your harm.
If you file notice within that time frame, the Indian Tribe’s insurance carrier will negotiate on their behalf “…handl[ing] the claim to conclusion.”
If you’re not happy with the result of that insurance company negotiation, then the Seminole Tribe has a “limited waiver of sovereign immunity” that lets you file a lawsuit against them “…in a court of competent jurisdiction as provided in the Tribe’s Compact with the State of Florida.”
You have 4 years to file this lawsuit. However, whether or not the Seminole sovereign immunity applies here depends on WHERE the injuries occurred.
From their Waiver:
[covered] injuries to persons or property that occurred “in an area of the Facility where Covered Games are played.” This means only the actual gaming floor area where slot machines are offered or areas of the facility where banked card games and/or high-stakes poker games are played (if any). It does not include other areas of the Facility, such as walkways,restrooms, restaurants, hotel facilities and areas where only non-Covered Games are played.
So, slip and fall or get assaulted in the hotel, at the restaurant, or in the casino restroom? Sovereign immunity still applies and per their Warning, you CANNOT sue for those damages.
What Should You Do?
A good piece of advice if you have been hurt at a tribal casino, is to at least speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer before you file a claim to learn about some of the issues that can arise with these claims, including the type of evidence needed to prove a claim and the type and amount of damages you can recover. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person) to answer your questions.
- What Type Of Legal Duty Does A Florida Property Owner Have For Injuries To Visitors?: Florida Premises Liability’s Invitee, Licensee, Trespasser Distinctions
- Hurt in a South Florida Hotel? Does Florida Law Protect You From Negligence of Hotel Security and Hotel Operations?
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.