Did you know?
If you get injured in any of California's 69 Indian Casinos (as of 2020), you may not be able to sue them for your injuries in State court. Your Indian Casino injury claim will go through a tribal review court system instead, headed by tribal members of the casino where you were injured. Do you think your injury claim will get a fair review?
This Sovereign Immunity does not apply to criminal investigations. Thankfully, the State of California criminal laws can be enforced on tribal casino land. So, in this respect, visiting an Indian Casino is not exactly like visiting a foreign country.
A brief history is in order to evaluate how California got to this position
In 1831, the U.S. Supreme Court formally recognized that tribes are considered to “domestic dependent nations,” which exercise authority over their tribal members and territories. Later on, in a landmark 1940 case, the U.S. Supreme Court set forth in plain and concise language the range of tribal immunity: “Indian Nations are exempt from lawsuits without congressional authorization.”
Then, in 1988, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), 18 U.S.C. Section 1166, which is a federal law, enabled indian tribes on tribal land to create gambling casinos. The IGRA federal law allows states to negotiate with tribal lands how to handle injury claims. California, for example, in its 1999 tribal-state compact (contract), has compacts with various indian casinos throughout California that limit injury liability if you are a US Citizen (non-tribal member) visiting a casino.
Thus, under federal law, a California Indian tribe, and it's casino, is a Sovereign Authority that has tribal Sovereign Immunity, not only from injury liability, but from lawsuit power in California state court (except, as noted above, in criminal matters and investigations where California State law still rules).
Sovereign Immunity Injury Waiver
However, many casinos have waived this injury immunity to some extent in their contract with the State of California and the general public. When a tribal casino has waived immunity from injuries occurring on its property by casino patrons, this can be good news for personal injury claimants who were injured on the tribal casino property, however the legal process for doing so is still not easy or even straightforward.
Many times, the waiver for injuries occurring on Indian casino property might only be for certain portions of the property, for example, the pool, lobby, walkways, and hotel areas are not waived, only the actual "gaming floor" where the slot machines and gaming tables are located provide a waiver of Sovereign Immunity from injuries occurring in those specific areas.
But, a word of caution: even when immunity is waived, tribal law governing how long an injury claim can be made will still apply, and this can drastically limit an injured patron's options to recover damages. The crucial issue of sovereign immunity, where inside the Indian Casino the injury occurred, and how it occurred, including each tribe’s individual waivers (which varies from Indian Casino to Indian Casino) is another reason injured patrons should consider contacting a knowledgeable California attorney soon after an accident or injury.
Indian Casino Insurance
Thankfully, California requires Indian Casinos to carry minimum liability insurance for injuries. However, regardless of whether an Indian tribe has waived Sovereign Immunity or not, special tribal rules still apply that vary from casino to casino. Yet, it seems, having an injury claim to an Indian Casino’s insurance carrier may be a far easier matter than suing the tribe and casino in a tribal court, which, in that sense, can be good news for injured patrons.
On the other hand, simply having an insurance policy does not get rid of the legal complexities caused by both California State law, tribal law and to what degree the tribe's Sovereign Immunity is waived, and how that applies to an injury claim. To this end, even when a patron injury occurs that would be covered by the Indian Casino insurance, the injured patron may still have to adhere to a different timeline, and process for asserting an injury claim.
Time Limits on Filing an Injury Claim at an Indian Casino
Generally, an injured person at an Indian Casino has 6 months to file their injury claim with the Indian Casino claims administrator (Tribal Risk Management Department). So injury filing deadlines are drastically shortened for any injury occurring on its property, regardless if the Sovereign Immunity waiver applies in an injury claim or not.
If you have further questions or concerns, and you would like to speak to a California personal injury attorney for free, you can call me direct at (619) 813-7955. I will be more than happy to point you in the right direction for your injury case. Stay strong, attorney Mark Blane.