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Fan injured by hot dog suing Kansas City Royals

By Bill Draper

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 07:09 a.m. HST, Nov 01, 2013

KANSAS CITY, Mo. >> If it had been a foul ball or broken bat that struck John Coomer in the eye as he watched a Kansas City Royals game, it's unlikely the courts would have forced the team to pay for the surgeries and suffering he's endured

But because it was a hot dog thrown by the team mascot -- behind the back, no less -- he just may have a case.

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 that teams employ to engage fans. 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.

Coomer, of Overland Park, Kan., says he was injured at a September 2009 Royals game when the team's lion mascot, Sluggerrr, threw a 4-ounce, foil-wrapped wiener into the stands that struck his eye. He had to have two surgeries -- one to repair a detached retina and the other to remove a cataract that developed and implant an artificial lens. Coomer's vision is worse now than before he was hurt and he has paid roughly $4,800 in medical costs, said his attorney, Robert Tormohlen.

Coomer, 53, declined to discuss the case. His lawsuit seeks an award of "over $20,000" from the team, but the actual amount he is seeking is likely much greater. Tormohlen declined to discuss the actual amount.

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 hotdog isn't.

The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments last month, but didn't indicate when it might issue its ruling.

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 Tormohlen.

"If a jury finds that the activity at issue is an inherent and unavoidable risk, the Royals owe no duty to their spectators," Tormohlen said. "No case has extended the no-duty rule to the activities of a mascot."

The Royals, whose spokesman declined to comment on the case while it is pending, have argued that the hotdog toss has been a popular fan attraction at Kauffman Stadium since 2000 and is as much part of the game experience as strikeouts and home runs.

From mascot races and T-shirt cannons to free Wi-Fi and stadium sushi stands, teams have been doing everything they can to convince fans that the live experience is worth the high ticket and concession prices and is better than watching games on television.

"You have this competition with teams engaged in pushing the envelope trying to make the experience at the event better than what you can experience at home," said Jordan Kobritz, a professor in the Sports Management Department at SUNY Cortland. "You also have the fan mentality in which risk today is more tolerable than it's been in our history."

A ruling in Coomer's favor, or one that at least assigns partial blame to the mascot, could force teams to rethink their promotions, or at least take additional measures to keep spectators safe, Kobritz said.

Bob Jarvis, a sports law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, said a 1997 California case set an important precedent when a state appeals court ruled that mascots are not an essential part of a baseball game. In that case, a minor league baseball team's dinosaur brushed against a fan, distracting him right before he was struck by a ball that broke several bones in his face. The court said mascot antics aren't essential or integral to the playing of a game.

Furthermore, not all courts have treated the baseball rule as sacrosanct. Earlier this year, the Idaho Supreme Court allowed a fan who lost an eye to a foul ball at a minor league baseball game to proceed with his lawsuit against the team. The court said that since baseball fan injuries are so rare in Idaho, there didn't seem to be a compelling reason for the court to step in.

In the Kansas City case, a ruling in the Royals' favor would indicate that mascots are, indeed, an essential part of the game experience, Jarvis said. If that happens, the Kansas City case would likely supplant Lowe's as the one attorneys look at when deciding whether to file a lawsuit on behalf of an injured fan.

"If you could get a court to go the other way and say in-game entertainment is a natural part of playing baseball in the U.S. in the 21st century, that would be a tremendous precedent that could cut off future lawsuits," Jarvis said.

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mikethenovice wrote:
The same genders would pay money to have a hot dog thrown at them.
on November 1,2013 | 06:17AM
palani wrote:
A hot dog in the eye is always a risk to any tea bagger.
on November 1,2013 | 06:22AM
lynnh wrote:
Just shut the @#$% up!
on November 1,2013 | 09:31AM
nodaddynotthebelt wrote:
That is such a vulgar post but I have to admit that it did bring a chuckle. It did not register to me at first but then the pun was taken.
on November 1,2013 | 10:08AM
HanabataDays wrote:
Seems to me like he has a pretty good case. Nobody would expect to be hit in the eye by a baseball while ordering a hotdog at the 50th State Fair. Likewise there's no reasonable expectation that a baseball team's mascot will throw a hotdog that will hit you in the eye during a ball game. Four ounces isn't a trivial weight for a projectile, it obviously caused injury and lasting disability, and he deserves to be compensated.
on November 1,2013 | 07:34AM
mcc wrote:
You sound like an ambulance chasing attorney.
on November 1,2013 | 08:43AM
nodaddynotthebelt wrote:
It stated in the article that hotdog tossing was a part of the activities at the game. It is likely that this person was already aware of that activity. It was put in place to attract more fans to the games.
on November 1,2013 | 10:00AM
Solara wrote:
The article states that the Hotdog Toss has been a feature since 2000. It's been ongoing for 13 years. That means it's a reasonable expectation for those attending to expect hotdogs to be tossed and to watch out for them. People need to take responsibility for their actions or inaction instead of trying to sue everyone for every little thing that goes wrong in their life.
on November 1,2013 | 10:09AM
SteveToo wrote:
They should just have paid he medical expenses and not fought him. No bad press that way.
on November 1,2013 | 09:03AM
false wrote:
on November 1,2013 | 10:13AM
jasurace wrote:
Good point. I am willing to bet the legal fees for the team already greatly exceed the cost of treatment.
on November 1,2013 | 02:07PM
bodai808 wrote:
How could he not see a hot dog coming straight at his eye? The mascot is there throwing stuff and fans all around were probably calling for him to throw the hot dog to them, he cannot say he didn't know they were throwing stuff, and it was tossed behind the back...how hard can you throw something behind your back? Sounds like he had a vision problem before this day and is now trying to cash in on his fortunate turn of events!!
on November 1,2013 | 09:22AM
nodaddynotthebelt wrote:
Exactly. Knowing that you have an eye problem, you would take extra precautions knowing that they have a free hotdog toss going on. If the consumer is unwilling to take the risk, he or she has no business attending one of these events. This kind of lawsuit is the reason why everything costs even more as the businesses have to pay higher insurance rates to cover this sue-happy country.
on November 1,2013 | 10:05AM
lynnh wrote:
Excuse me, but cataracts do not develop suddenly. Sounds like this guy needed eye work and he is using this to get rich. I hope they uncover evidence showing he had previous eye problems. I'm sorry, but in what world would a 4 ounce dog do the kind of damage. They toss the dogs, not try and strike someone out with it.
on November 1,2013 | 09:38AM
lowtone123 wrote:
I would think it would be hard to prove with an existing condition. It's not like the mascot threw the hot dog at 90 mph.
on November 1,2013 | 10:21AM
saveparadise wrote:
Pre-existent condition for this frivolous law suit. The ambulance chaser lawyer must be desperate in this poor economy. But then again they might get a jury stupid enough to believe a hot dog can cause the injury.
on November 1,2013 | 10:44AM
Willieboy wrote:
good thing this didn't happen here....hawaii's court system would award this guy a multi-million dollar settlement without a second thought.
on November 1,2013 | 01:53PM
Willieboy wrote:
aaaahhhhh c'mon....this loser just couldn't catch the damn hotdog that was thrown his way! or maybe the hotdog buns served at royals games are harder than baseball bats....i dunno
on November 1,2013 | 01:49PM
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