Who’s To Blame When A Flying Hot Dog Injures Someone: The Fan Or The Sports Team?

About three years ago a fan at a Kansas City Royals game got beaned in the face and decided to sue the team. But the flying object doing the beaning wasn’t a baseball, which could be reasonably expected to fly into the stands and hurt someone, but a hot dog flung by the mascot as part of the “fan attraction” at Kauffman Stadium. So who’s to blame?

The fan maintains that it’s the team’s fault its lion mascot, Sluggerrr, was flinging wieners. As such, he says the Royals should pay damages and for his subsequent surgeries to fix the detached retina he says he suffered as a result of the foil-wrapped projectile, reports the Associated Press: Since the September 2009 incident he says he’s had two surgeries related to the injury totaling $4,800 in medical costs, and his lawyer says his vision is worse now than before he was hurt.

But does the “baseball rule” — a legal standard that shields teams from lawsuits related to fan injuries that occur because of events on the field/court/rink — extend to injuries caused by mascots or other personnel who aren’t playing a game?

The man sued the Kansa City Royals in 2010 arguing that yes, teams should be held accountable for such injuries. The first set of jurors said no, and that the man was to blame because he wasn’t paying attention to what was going on around him. But then an appeals court went the other way in January 2013, saying that a person could should know a baseball might hit them, being hit with a hot dog is not an inherent risk.

While the Royals aren’t commenting citing pending litigation, in the past the team has argued that the hot dog toss is a hit with the fans since 2000, and that it’s every bit as much of the gameday experience as strikeouts and home runs.

The Missouri Supreme Court heard oral arguments in September but it’s unclear when it could issue a ruling. The sports community is paying rapt attention, because if the Supreme Court sides with the fan, the legal precedent could change and prompt sports teams around the country to approach fan interactions at games a lot differently.

That could herald the end of grabbing free food out of the air or nabbing a crappy XXXXL t-shirt fired from an air cannon, because if there’s a possibility the team could lose a lawsuit brought by an injured fan, it’s probably not going to engage in such activities.

“If a jury finds that the activity at issue is an inherent and unavoidable risk, the Royals owe no duty to their spectators,” the man’s attorney said. “No case has extended the no-duty rule to the activities of a mascot.”

What do you think — are mascots and giveaways just as essential to the fan experience or should teams pay when those activities injure a fan?

Fan hurt by hot dog sues Royals [Associated Press]