Hotdogs may be as much a part of baseball as the sound of hardwood hitting horsehide and an ice-cold beer, but the risk of getting hit in the eye by a hotdog chucked by a team mascot is not an inherent risk of the game, according to the Missouri Supreme Court.
The Missouri high court ruled Tuesday in the case of John Coomer, a long-time baseball fan and frequent spectator at the Kansas City Royals' Kauffman Stadium. It was there during a game in September 2009 that Mr. Coomer, seated six rows behind the visitors' dugout, caught a hot dog to the face as the Royals' mascot, Sluggerrr, engaged in a between innings “hotdog launch” from atop the dugout.
After developing vision problems Mr. Coomer was diagnosed with a detached retina and sued the Royals for negligence over the team's care, training and supervision around Sluggerrr's hotdog tossing. While admitting responsibility, the Royals denied negligence and claimed that Mr. Coomer had assumed the risk of injury by attending the game and that he was at least partially responsible for his own injury.
After a lower court jury ruled in favor of the team, Mr. Coomer appealed. In its unanimous ruling, the Missouri Supreme Court held that the trial court erred in directing the jury to determine whether a possible hotdog toss injury was an inherent risk of attending a baseball game and that, in fact, hotdog injury risk is not an inherent risk in watching a ballgame.
“As a matter of law, the risk of being injured by either Sluggerrr's hotdog toss or hotdog launch is not one of the risks inherent in watching a Royals home game,” the court said. “Hotdog tossing has nothing to do with watching baseball — there is no link between the game and the risk of being hit by a hotdog toss during a break in the game.”
The Supreme Court remanded the case to the lower court for retrial.