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Big League Stew

Fan injured by flying hot dog takes case against Royals to Supreme Court

Mark Townsend
Big League Stew

John Coomer, the baseball fan who sued the Kansas City Royals claiming the team's mascot, Slugger, struck him in the eye when he tossed a foil-wrapped hot dog into the stands, is taking his case to the Missouri Supreme Court.

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(AP)

The alleged incident, which took place at Kauffman Stadium in Sept. 2009, caused Coomer's vision to be permanently damaged according to the lawsuit. He's since undergone two surgeries — one to repair a detached retina and the other to remove a cataract issue and implant an artificial lens — with no improvement and has incurred medical bills up to $4,800.

Not surprisingly, Coomer says the Royals should cover the bill and then some, claiming the team "failed to adequately train its agents in the proper method in which to throw hotdogs into the stands at Kauffman Stadium." The Royals, on the other hand, say they’re covered by the “baseball rule” — a legal standard that protects teams from being sued over fan injuries caused by events on the field, court or rink. In other words, the fine print on your tickets.

Of course, it’s easy to spot the loophole in this case. The alleged injury took place in the stands, it involved a Royals employee, but had nothing to do with the game itself. A flying ball, broken bat or even a player lunging into the stands would obviously be a different story, but this incident clearly resides outside those boundaries and leaves Coomer with a sound case.

Here’s more from the Associated Press:

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. (Coomer's attorney Robert) 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.

Needless to say, it’s a unique case that could set a new legal precedent and, as the AP notes, could change how teams across the sporting landscape approach interacting with fans.

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."

If the ruling goes in Coomer's favor, things like hot dog and t-shirt cannons could become things of the past. Unfortunately, though, there's probably nothing they can do about 'The Wave.' That aside, it'll be very interesting to see how this case plays out. We'll definitely be keeping a close eye on the proceedings in the coming weeks, so stayed tuned for updates.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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