(CN) - Injury by flying hot dog is not an inherent risk of watching a baseball game, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled, reviving negligence claims against the Kansas City Royals.
John Coomer and his father had been among just 12,000 fans to brave the rain for the Sept. 8, 2009, game between the Royals and the Detroit Tigers.
They took seats six rows behind the Tigers' dugout and enjoyed the show as Sluggerrr, the Royals' crown-topped lion mascot, stepped onto the dugout for the Hot Dog Launch, a feature of every Royals home game since 2000.
Coomer said he looked away to check out the scoreboard when Sluggerrr switched from launching hot dog with an air gun to distant seats to tossing them by hand at the nearer-seated fans.
Just a "split-second later, something hit me in the face" with a "pretty forceful" blow, Coomer testified.
Coomer's eyesight gradually worsened, and he was diagnosed with a detached retina. In the winter of 2010, he sued the Royals for negligence and battery.
A jury ruled for the Royals, assigning 100 percent of the blame to Coomer, but the Missouri Supreme Court vacated the decision on June 24.
Judge Paul Wilson, writing for the court, noted that the case turns on the whether Coomer's assumption of risk survives the court's adoption of comparative fault in 1983.
"To the extext it survives, Coomer claims that the application of this doctrine is to be decided by the court and not the jury. The court agrees," Wilson wrote.
Wilson brought up a hypothetical situation of two different fans being injured by hot dogs in the same way, but receiving different verdicts from their respective juries.
"The Royals could be held liable for all or some part of one spectator's damages and escape all liability for the other spectator's damages solely because the latter jury found the risk of injury from Sluggerrr's hot dog toss to be an 'inherent risk' and the other jury did not," Wilson wrote. "Such conflicting results are unacceptable."
Risk from a flying hot dog is also different than the traditional "baseball rule" in which fans assume the risks of balls, or even bats, flying into the stands, the court found.
"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," Wilson wrote, remanding the case to the trial court.
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