The fiancée of a Wisconsin man brutally stabbed to death by a stranger at the Harrah’s Joliet Hotel & Casino in Joliet, Ill. can sue the casino’s owner, Caesars Entertainment, for negligence, a federal judge has ruled.
On Wednesday, US District Judge Manish Shah rejected Caesars’ motion to dismiss the $6 million lawsuit. The plaintiff, Denise Dixon, sued the casino operator in February 2021 over the death of her partner Emanuel “Sam” Burgarino, 12 months earlier.
Burgarino, 76, was stabbed 26 times and robbed in a shocking attack that took place in a hallway on the hotel’s fifth floor.
The perpetrator, Robert Watson, a transient with a history of violence, is said by his lawyers to be suffering from schizophrenia. They claim he was mentally incompetent at the time of the killing.
Watson was arrested the next day in the Joliet Public Library, just two blocks from the casino. Police found Burgarino’s bloodstained cash in his backpack.
‘Duty of Care Exists’
Dixon argued in her lawsuit that Caesars had a duty of care to protect guests from Watson. Lawyers for Caesars argued that, in this case, no such duty of care existed because Watson’s attack was not “reasonably foreseeable.”
But the judge disagreed.
“It is reasonably foreseeable that hotel guests will occasionally be at risk of third-party assaults in hotels,” he wrote. “And the complaint plausibly alleges that this attack was reasonably foreseeable.
Watson suspiciously lurked and stalked patrons on Harrah’s property for hours—in plain view of hotel staff—without checking in, gambling, or buying anything,” Dixon continued. “Harrah’s cameras repeatedly recorded him doing so, and Harrah’s did nothing to investigate his presence or prevent the attack on Burgarino.”
The judge emphasized that this doesn’t mean Caesars breached its duty of care, or that negligence has been proven. Merely that such a duty existed.
No Malice from Casino
The judge did grant Caesars’ motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
According to Dixon, the basis for this complaint was that Harrah’s employees neglected to inform her about her fiancé’s assault and stopped her from proceeding to the fifth floor when she discovered something was wrong.
After Burgarino’s death, they asked Dixon to pay her room bill, did not offer her sympathy, and did not escort her all the way to her car when she left. Afterward, they continued to send her personalized ads asking her to come back to stay at the hotel.
None of these actions were extreme or exceeded the bounds of decency,” Shah wrote. “The complaint alleges insensitivity at most; it does not allege the kind of outrageous or atrocious conduct necessary to state a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
“Limiting access to a crime scene was a legitimate objective, and the failure to reach out to Dixon immediately or give her support was not abusive,” he added. “Nothing about the allegations suggests that the hotel was trying to insult Dixon or inflict emotional harm upon her.”
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