Attorneys for the estate of a Rhode Island man who climbed over a railing and fell from the 14th floor of a casino hotel balcony while drunk have filed a lawsuit in Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court claiming the gaming facility was negligent.
Alonzo Depina, a guest at Foxwoods Resort Casino, accidentally fell from a ledge on his room’s balcony in October 2016, according to James Harrington, attorney for the estate. The balcony had a railing with an unprotected ledge about a foot wide on the other side.
Harrington said police concluded that Depina climbed over the railing and was walking along the ledge when he accidentally fell.
A wrongful death lawsuit was filed Oct. 3. Both parties made their first appearances in tribal court within the past two weeks.
At issue, Harrington said, is whether Foxwoods staff should have given a key to the balcony to someone who was clearly drunk.
Harrington, an associate with Polito & Associates in Waterford, said casino staff were culpable in Depina’s death because they granted a request to unlock the balcony at the Grand Pequot Hotel.
Foxwoods has a key to each room’s balcony, which guests must ask a hotel employee to unlock. In this case, either Depina or one of his three suite mates asked an employee to unlock the balcony, Harrington said. All four individuals were intoxicated and hotel staff shouldn’t have opened the balcony, Harrington said.
Harrington said he didn’t know why Depina climbed out onto the ledge.
The group was denied service at a hotel bar because they were visibly drunk, Harrington said.
“You have a group of people who have been identified by the hotel prior as being intoxicated,” Harrington said. “Allowing them access to the balcony while drunk, we believe, has certain dangers.”
Depina, 22, was with a party of about 10 people who left on a bus from the restaurant they worked at in South Kingston, Rhode Island, across the border to Foxwoods in Ledyard, Connecticut.
Depina and his friends were drinking on the bus ride to the casino and arrived drunk, Harrington said. Their first stop at Foxwoods was at the hotel bowling alley.
“Initially, they were not allowed to have liquor at the casino because they were intoxicated,” Harrington said. “However, for reasons currently unknown, the group was eventually allowed to consume alcohol.”
The coroner classified Depina’s death as an accidental fall.
Even though Depina was drunk and of age, Harrington said blame for his death needs to be placed on the hotel.
“We are claiming negligence because he got the key to the balcony from hotel staff. The balcony has a railing and ledge that make access to it very easy,” he said.
Harrington would not say whether Depina should share responsibility for his actions that night, saying, “That is a question for the court to address. There is no questions that his intoxication is part of the case and what is driving this case.”
Harrington said the incident at Foxwoods “is similar to the responsibility we hold bars to. If you overserve someone in a bar context, you have a responsibility not to allow them to get into a car. Here, they should not have allowed them to have that key.”
The case will be heard in Tribal Court in front of Edward O’Connell Jr., of Waller Smith & Palmer in New London. The tribe hires attorneys to work per diem as independent tribal judges, Harrington said.
Harrington said the next step is to gather internal reports from the hotel on the accidentm as well as any surveillance video. Harrington said the trial is tentatively set for Dec. 13, 2018.
The casino is represented by Ed Gasser, a solo practitioner from Avon. Gasser did not respond to repeated requests for comment. No one from the Mashantucket Pequot Public Affairs Department responded to a request for comment.