Lawsuit called frivolous; woman told to pay casino|[3/1/06]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 1, 2006

A Warren County judge has put the brakes on what he called a frivolous suit by a woman claiming she should be paid $200,000 for injuries at a Vicksburg casino, ordering instead that she should pay $15,000.

Judge Johnny Price dismissed the case filed by Willie Burnley and ordered her to pay Ameristar Casino Vicksburg $14,679.19 in legal fees and Warren County $500 in jury costs, a total of $15,179.19.

Price threw out the suit after hearing Burnley’s case in a jury trial late last year. He ruled Feb. 21 on a motion from Ameristar requesting reimbursement for the costs.

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Burnley had sued the casino in the court in February 2005, seeking $200,000 in compensation for what she called &#8220numerous damages” suffered as a result of her shoulder’s being struck by a slot-machine door as it was opened by a technician at the casino on Nov. 15, 2003.

Burnley testified at the trial that &#8220the slot machine door caused a bruise and that she suffered from pain and problems with her shoulder” from September 2004 to March 2005, says an Ameristar motion for sanctions against Burnley that Price granted.

The motion says Burnley had said she was asked whether she had suffered from pain in or problems with her right shoulder before the machine door made contact.

&#8220She answered all of these questions in the negative, but amended her responses one week prior to trial to reflect that she had been diagnosed with arthritis in her right shoulder approximately three years prior,” the motion says.

The motion goes on to say medical records show that Burnley had been treated for her right shoulder as early as 1991, that it had been X-rayed at least four times and that she had undergone physical therapy.

&#8220Based on all the above, this court found that the plaintiff committed perjury,” the motion says.

A rule called Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 11(b) &#8220provides for the imposition of sanctions against a party, an attorney or both, if any party files a pleading or motion which, in the opinion of the court, is frivolous,” the motion says. Other state law &#8220provides for the imposition of reasonable attorney’s fees and costs against an attorney, party or both if the court finds that any claim or defense is made without substantial justification,” it adds.

Price said imposition of sanctions under the rules was &#8220absolutely unusual” if not unprecedented.

Burnley was represented by Ridgeland attorney Catouche J.L. Body, who was not available. Ameristar was represented by Jackson attorney Timothy D. Moore.