Court says Royals fan hit in eye with hot dog thrown by mascot has a case

Kansas City Royals mascot Sluggerrr. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

You've surely seen the signs at ballparks that read "Beware of bats and balls that may leave the field of play."

Now, hot dogs may need to be added to the list of dangerous objects that could potentially find their way into the stands.

A recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling stated that flying hot dogs are not an inherent risk that comes with watching a baseball game. The ruling came after Josh Coomer was hit in the eye with a hot dog tossed into the crowd by Kansas City Royals mascot Sluggerrr during a September 2009 game against the Detroit Tigers.

Coomer, who was at the rain-soaked game with his father, testified that he looked away for a moment, just when Sluggerrr switched from the cannon-powered hot dog launcher to the "cannon" attached to his throwing shoulder. Seated six rows behind the Tigers dugout, Coomer turned to look back and claims he was hit in the eye with a "pretty forceful" blow just a "split second later."

His eyesight worsened over the next year, and after being diagnosed with a detached retina, Coomer sued the Royals for negligence and battery in the winter of 2010.

Originally, the court found Coomer to be fully at fault, but on June 24, they vacated that decision after an appeal from Coomer and remanded the case to jury trial.

"Whether a particular risk is inherent in watching a sporting event is a question of law for the court, not a question of fact for the jury," Judge Paul C. Wilson wrote in his decision. "This Court holds that the risk of being injured by Sluggerrr’s hotdog toss is not one of the inherent risks of watching a Royals home game."

More from the court's decision:

In the past, this Court has held that spectators cannot sue a baseball team for injuries caused when a ball or bat enters the stands. Such risks are an unavoidable – even desirable – part of the joy that comes with being close enough to the Great American Pastime to smell the new-mown grass, to hear the crack of 42 inches of solid ash meeting a 95-mph fastball, or to watch a diving third baseman turn a heart-rending triple into a soul-soaring double-play. The risk of being injured by Sluggerrr’s hotdog toss, on the other hand, is not an unavoidable part of watching the Royals play baseball. That risk is no more inherent in watching a game of baseball than it is inherent in watching a rock concert, a monster truck rally, or any other assemblage where free food or T-shirts are tossed into the crowd to increase excitement and boost attendance.  

Accordingly, Coomer’s claim is not foreclosed by the assumption of the risk doctrine. Instead, it is up to the jury to decide: (1) whether Sluggerrr injured Coomer by hitting him with a hotdog, and (2) whether Sluggerrr was negligent in doing so. If so, the jury is entitled to hold the Royals liable for Coomer’s damages, and the jury is entitled to reduce those damages by whatever percentage of fault the evidence shows should be assessed to Coomer. Because the jury instructions given below introduced an improper consideration into this otherwise ordinary analysis, the Court vacates the judgment in favor of the Royals and remands this case. 

After this ruling, the Phillie Phanatic should be careful. 

Click here to read the full decision