Currently before the Missouri Supreme Court is a case destined for inclusion in torts casebooks for years to come. The facts, courtesy of Slate, are as follows:
On Sept. 8, 2009, Robert Coomer, 50, was sitting in the stands with his dad watching the Royals game. As he knew from his many previous visits to the ballpark, the space between innings, batters, and even pitches, is jammed with constant entertainment. The hot-dog toss is one of the most “venerable” of these distractions (to pluck an adjective from the Royals’ brief to the court). Sluggerrr, a goofy lion mascot, is played by John Byron Shores, who is 6-foot-3 and weighs 220 pounds. He turned his back to the crowd, and then, fired underarm into the stands. Coomer, who’d looked away to check the out-of-town baseball scores (he’s a Tigers fan) was smacked in the eye before he knew what hit him. He suffered a detached retina, and has since needed surgery for a cataract.
The jury returned a verdict for the defense, however, the court of appeals found error on the part of the trial judge by instructing the jury that they should find for the Royals if getting hit by a mascot-flung hotdog was an inherent risk at a big league game.
In all likelihood the case will not render teams liable for foul balls and runaway pucks which hurl into the stands at great speeds. Such happenings are traditional inherent risks of sporting event attendance. This is understandable as those risks arise instantaneously and uncontrollably. This is not so for the purposefully contrived circumstances where a stadium employee donned in a mascot outfit flings, or launches via air cannon, objects at the crowd from directions away from the field of play.
While sports purist lament much of these marketing department antics at their favorite stadiums, one need not be an recreational luddite to question the wisdom of the type of gatling gun-esque pieces of hardware now in use, like the one unleashed by the Philadelphia 76ers this past year called Big Bella.
Should sports fans, who presumably have come to watch the sport being played, be expected to keep a level of peripheral awareness of incoming objects more appropriate for Falujah than Fenway? That doesn’t seem reasonable. While some will undoubtedly fret that Missouri Supreme Court might be killing the free hotdog toss (maybe a $1o value at some venues) if they rule on behalf of Robert Coomer, such a ruling would be bringing some level of sanity and safety back to marketing promotions gone wild.