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Hot Dog Injury Could Challenge 'Baseball Rule' Precedent

Paul Steinbach

John Coomer didn't see it coming, but is it reasonable to think that the Kansas City Royals should have?

Coomer was attending a Royals game in September 2009 when he was struck in the eye by a foil-wrapped hot dog flung in his direction by the team's mascot in behind-the-back fashion. Coomer has endured two surgeries - one to repair a detached retina and the other to remove a cataract that developed and implant an artificial lens - totaling $4,800.

According to an Associated Press report, Coomer's lawsuit seeks more than $20,000 from the Royals, though the actual amount he seeks is likely to be much greater.

The case was first heard two years ago, when a jury sided with the Royals after reasoning that Coomer, 53, should have been more aware of what was happening around him. However, an appeals court overturned that ruling in January, concluding that while being struck by a baseball is an inherent risk of attending a baseball game, being hit with a hot dog is not.

The Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments last month, but has not indicated when it might issue a ruling - a ruling that could have far-reaching effects in the spectator sports world. To date, sports organizations have been legally protected by the so-called "baseball rule," which assumes fans are aware of and accept the risk of injury caused by events originating on the playing surface in question. Should the court determine that a costumed mascot tossing a four-ounce hot dog is not covered by this legal standard, mascot-fan interaction could be forever altered.

The baseball rule has been serving teams in all sports for years. In baseball, it typically has shielded teams from legal damages resulting from fans injured by batted or thrown balls or by bats (or bat pieces) that have been launched into the stands. Coomer's case, while atypical in its implication of the actions of a mascot, is not the first time the rule has been challenged.

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