A federal judge has ruled that the fiancee of a man fatally stabbed by a stranger at Harrah’s Joliet Hotel and Casino can sue Caesars Entertainment, the casino owner, for negligence.
The incident occured in March of 2019, and the victim’s fiancee, Denise Dixon, sued Caesars in Feb. 2021. The victim was 76-year-old Wisconsite Emanuel “Sam” Burgarino.
Caesars’ motion to dismiss the $6 million lawsuit against the Illinois casino was denied by U.S. district judge Manish Shah.
How the incident at the Illinois casino unfolded
Will County assistant state’s attorney Chelsea Selvey previously gave this account through an eye witness as to how things played out the night of the murder:
At around 10 p.m. on Saturday, March 23, the witness said he’d just gotten in the elevator to head to the fifth floor of Harrah’s hotel. A stranger, a 25-year-old man named Robert Watson who was later identified as the murderer, asked the witness to hold the elevator door for him.
Watson then rode to the fifth floor with the witness and both exited the elevator. The witness noticed Watson didn’t have a hotel key card to use the elevator, so he circled back to return to the lobby.
When the witness made it back up to his room, he heard noises in the hallway. He peeked out of his room door and saw Watson stabbing Burgarino in the neck and chest. When the witness shouted at Watson to get off the Burgarino, Watson sprinted to the stairwell and exited the building.
Police apprehended the accused at the Joliet Public Library, located just two blocks from Harrah’s. Watson was reportedly wearing similar clothing to what he had on the night of the murder. A backpack seen in the surveillance video contained money and other items covered in blood.
During court hearings, Selvey also noted Watson’s criminal history which includes charges in Illinois, Arizona, Texas and Wisconsin for various crimes such as burglary, robbery and aggravated battery.
Dixon’s case against Caesars
Dixon said in her lawsuit against Caesars that the gaming operator had a duty of care to protect guests from Watson. The accused was seen wandering around casino and hotel grounds on the day of the incident. Caesars argued Watson’s actions weren’t “reasonably foreseeable,” and asked the judge to dismiss.
But judge Shah sided with Dixon, writing:
“It is reasonably foreseeable that hotel guests will occasionally be at risk of third-party assaults in hotels. And the complaint plausibly alleges that this attack was reasonably foreseeable.”
Here’s what Dixon said about Watson’s suspicious activity earlier in the day of the murder:
“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. Harrah’s cameras repeatedly recorded him doing so, and Harrah’s did nothing to investigate his presence or prevent the attack on Burgarino.”
Judge Shah dismissed one claim from Dixon
Judge Shah dismissed Dixon’s claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The complaint stemmed from the way Harrah’s staff treated her after her fiancee’s murder. She said hotel employees didn’t inform her of the incident. And staff stopped her from accessing the crime scene once she realized something was going on.
Dixon also said following Burgarino’s death, Harrah’s charged her for the stay at the hotel. She said the hotel also showed no sympathy. And hotel staff didn’t walk her to her car as she exited hotel grounds. Then, Harrah’s continued sending Dixon advertisements to return for a stay at the hotel.
Here’s why Shah decided to dismiss this claim:
“None of these actions were extreme or exceeded the bounds of decency. 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.