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Courts: Flying hot dogs can present hazard to fans

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Kansas City Royals

This could change between-innings entertainment: the Missouri Supreme Court will decide whether a hot dog thrown into the stands is covered by pro baseball's standard disclaimer about objects flying from the playing field.

For years courts across the nation have upheld the standard disclaimer found on every baseball game ticket: a fan attends a baseball game at their own peril, as there is the constant danger of a baseball flying into the stands. The disclaimer has been challenged many times, but no one has won a sizable economic award challenging the disclaimer.

However, the limits on the disclaimer are being tested in Missouri, where a fan struck in the eye by a flying hot dog is suing for damage. John Coomer was attending a Kansas City Royals game at Kauffman Stadium when the team's mascot, Slugerrr, shot hot dogs into the stands in a between-innings promotion repeated in hundreds of ballparks every single summer night. Coomer suffered injuries as a result of the hot dog and sued the Royals for damages. We're not talking big money here -- Coomer is seeking more than $20,000 to cover a $4,800 doctor bill -- but we're talking about a legal challenge to the flying-objects disclaimer. From AP:

The Missouri Supreme Court is weighing whether the "baseball rule" — a legal standard that protects teams from being sued over fan injuries caused by events on the field, court or rink — should also apply to injuries caused by mascots or the other personnel. Because the case could set a legal precedent, it could change how teams in other cities and sports approach interacting with fans at their games....

The Jackson County jurors who first heard the case two years ago sided with the Royals, saying Coomer was completely at fault for his injury because he wasn't aware of what was going on around him. An appeals court overturned that decision in January, however, ruling that while being struck by a baseball is an inherent risk fans assume at games, being hit with a hot dog isn't.

Few cases had addressed the level of legal duty, or obligation, a mascot owes to fans, so Coomer's case is being closely watched by teams throughout the country, said [Coomer's attorney, Robert] Tormohlen.

If Coomer prevails, look for teams to quickly alter how they launch freebies into the stands. And watch for other state courts to rule the same way if he prevails.


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