On September 8, 2009, John C. Coomer went to see a Kansas City Royals baseball game, an activity he had done dozens of times before. This time, however, he would not return home unscathed – during an in-game promotion known as the Hotdog Launch, Coomer was struck in the eye by a flying dog thrown by “Sluggerrr,” the team’s mascot. While the story might seem amusing, Coomer’s injuries were not; the impact of the hotdog detached Coomer’s retina, forcing him to undergo two surgeries to correct his deteriorating vision. Coomer now sports an artificial lens in one eye.
Hoping to recover for his injuries, Coomer filed suit against the Royals asserting claims of negligence against the team for the actions of Sluggerrr. The Royals countered with assumption of risk defenses. Ultimately, after the trial court denied Coomer’s motion for a directed verdict, the jury held for the Royals, finding Coomer to be exclusively at fault for his injuries.
But all is not lost for Mr. Coomer; on January 15, 2013, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District reversed and remanded the dismissal of Coomer’s case, stating that the trial court had made improper instructional errors to the jury. In pertinent part the decision stated that, unlike the risk of being hit be a baseball, “the risk of being hit in the face by a hot dog is not a well-known incidental risk of attending a baseball game.” Further, despite the fact that Coomer had been to many games and was aware of the Hotdog Launch, this alone “[did] not equate to a patron’s consent to the risks of being hit by a promotional item.”
While the outcome of the case has yet to be seen, Royals fans should expect forthcoming changes to the disclaimers on the backs of their ticket stubs . . .