TULSA, Okla. (AP) - The Choctaw Nation will appeal an Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals ruling that said an Arkansas couple can sue the tribe, the tribe's attorney said.
The civil appeals court said the tribe waived its sovereign immunity from certain tort claims alleging civil wrongdoing when it entered a gaming compact with the state.
''I respectfully disagree with the opinion,'' said Robert L. Rabon, a Hugo attorney representing the tribe. ''We will continue to pursue this appeal. It is still in litigation so I can't comment on it.''
The decision overturns a LeFlore County District Court ruling that dismissed the lawsuit against the Durant-based tribe.
Danny and Pat Dye alleged in the lawsuit that Danny Dye was hurt when a casino employee driving the tribe's casino shuttle cart hit him in the casino parking lot on Dec. 6, 2005. The casino is in Pocola, which is near the Oklahoma-Arkansas border.
The Dyes sought damages for negligence, bodily injury and loss of companionship.
''We find that the compact contains a clear and unequivocal waiver of sovereign immunity for certain tort claims,'' the opinion from the appeals court stated. ''It is settled that an Indian tribe may waive its immunity. In the compact, the tribe expressed its intent to provide redress for injured patrons.
''The tribe gave effect to that intent by consenting to the jurisdiction of 'a court of competent jurisdiction.' At the time of the compact, the only such court in existence was the Oklahoma state district court.''
The tribe later assigned a tribal court to handle tort claims, the opinion states, but that action ''does not change the fact of the tribe's consent to state court jurisdiction shown in its acceptance of the compact.''
Fort Smith, Ark., attorney Daniel W. Walker, who represented the Dyes, said he believes the opinion is precedent-setting.
''If an individual is injured at one of these casinos, it is conceivable that the dispute can be taken to state court now,'' Walker said. ''Before, the suits had been dismissed.''