The Tunica-Biloxi Tribe owns and operates the Paragon Casino Resort in Marksville, Louisiana. Photo: J. Stephen Conn
Litigation | Public Relations

Tunica-Biloxi Tribe casino workers prevail in wrongful death case

Three employees of the casino owned by the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe have prevailed in a long-running wrongful death case that was impacted by a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

In a unanimous decision, the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal said the Paragon Casino Resort employees were not to blame for the death of Michael Blake Zaunbrecher. He had been killed in an accident involving a patron who was allegedly over-served alcohol at the facility in Marksville.

To the contrary, the death was the fault of patron Leo J. David, the court said. State law "squarely placed the responsibility for the consumption of alcohol on the individual consuming the alcohol," Judge John E. Conery wrote in a March 21 decision first reported by The Alexandria Town Talk.

Zaunbrecher died in July 2013 after his car was struck by David, who also was killed. A subsequent lawsuit accused a bartender at Paragon of serving alcohol to David even though he was intoxicated. Two security guards allegedly escorted David to his car prior to the incident.

The court, however, found those claims to be unsubstantiated. The bartender named in the case only served one beer to David, according to video evidence, and that was hours before he left the facility, the decision stated.

David was indeed served other beers, but by a different bartender and by waitresses, the court said.

Additionally, video evidence showed that David was not escorted to his vehicle by the security guards or by any other casino employees, for that matter. The patron "showed no obvious signs of intoxication when he left the casino," Conery wrote.

Despite being cleared by the new ruling, the three employees previously lost a significant decision when the Third Circuit said they could be sued for their alleged actions. The court said they were not protected by sovereign immunity, unlike the tribe or the casino itself.

The tribe's gaming authority subsequently asked the Supreme Court to hear the dispute. But the petition in Tunica-Biloxi Gaming Authority v. Zaunbrecher was rebuffed last May in the wake of Lewis v. Clarke.

In Lewis, the Supreme Court held that tribal employees can be sued even while carrying out their official duties. The ruling has opened the doors to more lawsuits, especially in cases where the tribe itself cannot be sued.

Still, the decision does not automatically mean tribal employees will lose on the merits of any claim.

Read More on the Story:
3 Paragon employees not liable in 2013 fatal crash, says 3rd Circuit (The Alexandria Town Talk March 27, 2018)

Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal Decision:
Zaunbrecher v. Martin (March 21, 2018)

Louisiana Court of Appeal Decision:
Zaunbrecher v. Succession of David (December 9, 2015)

U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Lewis v. Clarke:
Syllabus [Summary of Outcome] | Opinion [Sotomayor] | Concurrence [Thomas] | Concurrence [Ginsburg]

U.S. Supreme Court Documents:
Docket Sheet No. 15-1500 | Questions Presented | Oral Argument Transcript

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Tunica-Biloxi Tribe casino employees face suit for fatal crash (December 17, 2015)