Coomer v. Kansas City Royals – Inherent Risks Assumed by Sports Fans
Millions of Americans attend sporting events every year. Research has indicated the number of injuries sustained by these patrons is far higher than one might expect, ranging from being struck by a foul baseball to being bruised by a rouge hockey puck. Unfortunately, sports teams often aren’t held accountable for resultant injuries. Most teams even have a “disclaimer of inherent risk” printed on the back of the ticket.
However, the general rule isn’t absolute. The key is establishing that the facility or employees somehow deviated from established custom. This is why despite the inherent risk clause, many teams have increased their protective glass and netting surrounding areas where such injuries are most likely to occur.
In the recent case of Coomer v. Kan. City Royals Baseball Corp., the Missouri Supreme Court was asked to determine whether a jury erred in deciding a sports fan injury case in favor of a baseball team.
In doing so, the court had to look closely at what is meant by “inherent risk.” Justices noted a previous decision in which the court held injuries suffered when a bat or ball was flung into the stands were not compensable because such instances were to be expected by fans. It’s a risk they assume when they enter the stadium.
However, the incident at the heart of this case was somewhat more obscure. It involves a flying hotdog. While that might sound humorous at first – indeed, the patron himself didn’t think much of it to begin with – the reality is it caused serious injury.
The incident in question involved a practice by the team’s mascot between innings to throw or shoot hotdogs from an airgun into the crowd. The fan said he was seated several rows back from the dugout when the mascot began. The fan said he turned to look at the scoreboard and suddenly felt a hot dog strike him in the eye.
While it hurt, he didn’t bother to report it to stadium officials right away because he didn’t think it was serious. However, he noticed the next day his sight in one eye was “off.” It was the same eye that had been struck. The problem persisted, and eight days later, he sought medical treatment. He was diagnosed with a torn retina and traumatic cataract. He had to undergo several surgeries to have the condition corrected.
When he filed his lawsuit, the team did not deny responsibility, but argued the theory of inherent risk as a defense.
A jury was asked to decide whether the patron’s injuries were a result of assumed risk. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defense.
However, the state supreme court reversed. The primary issue was that it was not the jury’s job to decide whether the action stemmed from assumed risk. That is a question of law for the court. Instead, the jury should have weighed whether the mascot injured the plaintiff by hitting him with a hot dog, whether the defendant was negligent in doing so and lastly whether damages should be awarded.
On the issue of inherent risk, the court found that being hit in the face by thrown food is not a risk one assumes when attending a baseball game. Thus, the verdict was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings.
How We Can Help
If you, a friend or a family member find themselves in a situation such as this, please call the Law Office of Scott A. Ferris, P.A. at 305 670-3330 right away. Scott A. Ferris, Esq. is a licensed civil law attorney who has been practicing law since 1987. He is available whenever you need him to pursue your rights. Please learn about our firm at www.FerrisLawFirm.com.