Royals Foul Out in Court Over Flying Hotdogs
Is a flying hotdog an inherent risk of watching a baseball game? Missouri’s highest court said no. The appeal before the court was a personal injury verdict in a jury trial. The case was brought by Royals fan John Coomer who was hit by an airborne hotdog tossed by the team’s mascot “Sluggerrr.” Coomer claimed that the flying hotdog caused a detached retina which required a surgery. At trial, the jury found the team at no fault.
It was a crucial question that determines whether teams can be covered under a legal doctrine called the baseball rule designed to protect the teams from being sued by spectators who get injured during a game. Applying the assumption of risk doctrine, the rule says when spectators watch a baseball game, they assume certain risk that is inherent in watching a game such as getting hit by a flying ball or bat. Thus, if a flying hotdog is indeed an inherent risk of watching a game, then the Royals would prevail.
In answering the question, the court looked at whether mascots and/or the antics of the mascots are an integral parts of a baseball game. The court found that the game will not change even without them. The presiding Judge Paul C. Wilson explained:
Such [inherent] risks [of watching a baseball game] 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.
The court remanded the case to a lower court. The lawyer for the Royals noted that Judge Wilson’s decision did not say that the jury was wrong, saying “[w]e don’t see how what the Supreme Court did will affect how a jury views this case.”
Next time when you go see a game, just watch out for any flying object.