Injured by a Flying Hot Dog at a Baseball Game – Personal Injury or Frivolous Lawsuit?
JUST A BIT OUTSIDE …
With the World Series in Kansas City this October, we are reminded of a recent baseball-related development in Missouri personal injury law. On June 24, 2014, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed a jury’s decision in favor of the defendant in a lawsuit over injuries suffered by a fan at a Kansas City Royals major league baseball game. The fan allegedly suffered a detached retina when hit in the eye by a wild throw of a hot dog by Sluggerrr, the Royals’ lion mascot.
The Court held that whether an injury resulting from a thrown hot dog is an inherent risk in watching a sporting event is a question of law to be decided by the court, not a question of fact to be decided by the jury. Therefore the judgment was vacated and the case was remanded back to the trial court.
Previous court cases had held that spectators could not sue a baseball team for injuries suffered when a ball or bat entered the stands because such risks are an unavoidable and even desirable part of the experience of attending a baseball game. However, the Court determined as a matter of law that the risk of being injured by a mascot’s hot dog toss is not an unavoidable part of watching a baseball game and therefore not an inherent risk of attending a game. As the judge put it, the fans “were not there to watch Sluggerrr toss hotdogs; they were there to watch the Royals play baseball.” Indeed, many baseball games manage to be played without grown men in animal costumes heaving food at the audience.
On the surface, this case may seem like one of those frivolous lawsuits that give personal injury lawyers a bad name. Injured by a hot dog thrown by a furry mascot? Come on! But the alleged injury is a serious one despite the seemingly comical way it occurred. The jury will still get the chance to determine if the fan was in fact injured by the hot dog and whether Sluggerrr was in fact negligent in his toss. Perhaps the hot dog merely slipped out of his paw. All of that is for the jury to decide. And if they find there was a true injury caused by negligence on the part of Sluggerrr or the Royals, the victim deserves compensation.