The Missouri Supreme Court reversed a lower-court decision and held that flying hot dogs are not inherently part of the baseball experience, potentially holding the Kansas City Royals liable for injuries caused to a fan during a promotion.
A lower court had held the Royals weren’t liable when fan John Coomer was struck and injured by a hot dog launched by the team’s mascot, Sluggerrr, via airgun. The argument: that such promotions were akin to balls flying into the stands and therefore inherently part of the baseball experience. As you’ll recall, courts across the country have consistently held that balls flying into the stands are part of the baseball experience and that baseball teams are not liable for any subsequent physical injuries.
But hot dogs…well, they’re not part of the game. From Law360.com:
“Sluggerrr may make breaks in the game more fun, but Coomer and his 12,000 rain-soaked fellow spectators were not there to watch Sluggerrr toss hot dogs; they were there to watch the Royals play baseball,” the court wrote in its decision. “Some fans may find Sluggerrr’s hot dog toss fun to watch between innings, and some fans may even have come to expect it, but this does not make the risk of injury from Sluggerrr’s hot dog toss an ‘inherent risk’ of watching a Royals game.”
The court also ruled that whether someone being injured by a flying hot dog is an inherent risk to watching the game isn’t a question for a jury to decide. It’s a question that has no right or wrong answer and must not, therefore, be decided by a jury, the court found.
“It is a conclusion about a fact, not a fact itself,” the court wrote. “Juries do not decide such questions; courts do.”
This is not necessarily a total win for Coomer, who suffered a detatched retina as a result of the flying hot dog. The Supreme Court sent the case back to a lower court to be heard again, and the court could very well find that Coomer was still at fault for not paying attention to the action (he had moved down to better seats, was aware of the promotion and turned away to look at the scoreboard). Still, the fact that teams can be responsible for damages from onfield promotions should cause some pause in front offices.
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