Jones Act, twisted

The Madison County Record Sep. 10, 2006, 11:52am

When he conjured up the idea some 86 years ago, U.S. Senator Wesley L. Jones (R-Wash.) was trying to protect the jobs of U.S. sailors in our shipping industry from foreign competition.

Alas, his namesake "Jones Act" is all about ensuring injured seamen get protections like having their medical bills paid and a free ride home. It says not a word about sore blackjack dealers or pit bosses. And it doesn't address dilemmas like the cashier who slips on butter-slicked steps on her way into the money-counting cage, or the slot machine attendant hurt attending.

In all fairness Sen. Jones, incidentially a Southern Illinois native who once practiced law in Decatur, couldn't have predicted the rise of riverboat gambling. And he couldn't have imagined that someday, non-sailors would use his law not to protect workers or our national interest but as a lever to sue for jackpot justice.

Back in April, the state Fifth Appellate Court in Mt. Vernon ruled that casino workers qualify as seamen under the Jones Act and thus aren't subject to Illinois' no-fault worker's compensation laws.

That is, unlike a traditional employee they can sue for damages when they're injured on the job. Floodgates, open thee.

The Metro-East, obviously, is home to thousands of casino workers who are now just a trip-and-fall away from opportunity. If you're a regular reader of The Record, you have surely seen our courthouse reports on the subject. We didn't just make up that butter reference.

Our worker's compensation system exists with a strong purpose. It guarantees those injured on the job fair compensation, while protecting Illinois' small businesses from the prospect of facing solvency-testing litigation everytime an employee gets hurt. The system is good for workers and crucial for our economy, and there's no logical reason it shouldn't apply to casinos as it does every other company in the area.

The Illinois Supreme Court is set to review the Fifth's ruling sometime soon. Here's hoping their interpretation of the Jones Act reads more like its spirit. Sen. Jones' was trying to protect sailors, not personal injury lawyers.

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