Injured deckand: 'There was a safer way to remove driftwood'

By Kelly Holleran | Oct 9, 2009

The deckhand for a floating casino says he never should have been forced to dislodge driftwood from beneath the gaming establishment in the rough, choppy waters that caused him to be thrown onto a metal tool box.

David Otten filed a lawsuit Oct. 1 in Madison County Circuit Court against Argosy Gaming Company doing business as Alton Belle Casino.

Otten claims he was assigned to board a 16-foot jon boat with a 30 horsepower engine and to use spike poles to pull driftwood from underneath the Alton Belle Casino on March 2, 2008.

At the time of Otten's assignment, the river temperature was about 40 degrees and the wind was gusting between 20 to 30 miles per hour, causing whitecap waves to make for dangerous river conditions, according to the complaint.

"Plaintiff was injured while working in Defendant's 16 foot jon boat when the rough river conditions caused the bow of the jon boat to drop down and roughly raise up striking the underside of the stern of the Alton Belle catapulting the Plaintiff into the air and backwards causing Plaintiff to strike his low back on the metal tool box of the jon boat resulting in injury to the Plaintiff's low back," the suit states.

Because of the incident, Otten fractured a vertebrae of his lumbar spine, suffered a herniated disc, incurred medical costs including the surgical repair of his back and lost earnings, the complaint says. In addition, Otten claims he experienced a diminution in his quality of life.

Otten contends there was a safer way to remove the driftwood from under the boat.

For example, the Alton Belle could have been disconnected from its dock and moved so that the lodged driftwood could be freed.

"Since June 1999, the Alton Belle has left its mooring several times for dedrifting, a process in which the boat is spun around two or three times by a tug boat to dislodge any accumulated drift material," the suit states.

Otten blames the Alton Belle for his injuries because managers ordered him to work on a 16-foot jon boat in rough river conditions, failed to provide him with a safe boat to use in the river, failed to dedrift the Alton boat using a tug boat and failed to properly secure the jon boat to the stern of the Alton Belle using the mooring boom.

In the two-count suit, Otten is seeking a judgment of more than $100,000, plus costs.

John H. Leskera of Leskera Law Firm in Collinsville will be representing him.

Madison County Circuit Court case number: 09-L-1046.

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