John Coomer was at Kaufman Stadium on September 8, 2009, watching the game between the Royals and Tiggers. The Royals team mascot hit Coomer in the eye with a hotdog during the “Hotdog launch”. Eight days later, Coomer told the Royals that he underwent surgery after being diagnosed with retinal detachment. Coomer sued Kansas City Royals Baseball Corporation, alleging negligence by the company and battery by a company employee throwing hotdogs. The Royals responded by taking responsibility for the mascot’s actions but denying negligence; while presenting defenses of assumption of risk and comparative fault.
The jury found the Royals to be zero percent at fault and Coomer one hundred percent at fault. The trial court entered the judgment in agreement with the jury. Coomer’s motion for a new trial and judgment was denied. Coomer appealed.
The central question of this case: “Is injury by a hotdog toss an inherent risk of attending a baseball game?”
There are two laws in this case; comparative fault and the Missouri baseball rule. The Supreme Court applied comparative fault, as was determined by Gustafson v. Benda. To apply this rule to the Coomer case, the court needed to establish which contributory negligence defenses remained as part of comparative fault (Freeman, 2015).
The Missouri baseball rule states that a baseball team cannot be held liable if a person in attendance is hit by a foul ball as long as there is some protection for that area. This would indicate reasonable care on the part of the team (Freeman, 2015).
The case was vacated and remanded to the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Coomer.
The court stated that it was not the jury’s responsibility to determine if the injury resulted from inherent risk. It was, however, a question for a judge. The jury had to decide if Coomer was hurt when the mascot hurled the hot dog, whether the Royals were negligent, and whether the plaintiff should receive compensation.
This case appears to be a staple in terms of tort law, where punitive damages are awarded to compensate victims from those found to be at fault for harm. Cheeseman (2019) explains the duty of care as each person’s responsibility, or in this case, each organization to “not to cause any unreasonable harm or risk of harm.” (p. 12). I agree with the final decision of this case and the suspension of the Royals’ hotdog launch to not cause this type of injury in the future.
The court held that Coomer’s injury was not a risk directly attributable to the baseball game as defined by the baseball rule, so Kansas City Royals Baseball Corporation would not have escaped legal liability anyway (Coomer v. Kansas City Royals baseball corporation, 2014). Still, the organization could have reduced the chance of such cases by better training employees, particularly team mascots. On the other hand, the organization could also separate the “Hotdog launch” zones from others, making it possible to purchase separate tickets with access to this area. It would make it possible for spectators to sign a no-claims and no-risk agreement in cases where they choose “Hotdog launch” zones, which could have relieved the party of liability. Besides, abolishing such practices in baseball would be a drastic but still a way to protect against such situations.
Cheeseman, H. R. (2019). The Legal Environment of Business and Online Commerce (9th Ed.) Pearson Education (US). Web.
Coomer v. Kansas City Royals Baseball Corporation. (2014). FindLaw. Web.
Freeman, R. H. (2015). The (Hot) Dog Days of Summer: Missouri’s “Baseball Rule” Takes a Strike. Missouri Law Review, 80(2), 11.