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Vol. 7, Iss. 6
July 18, 2018


Hot Dog: The Wall Street Journal Published My Op-Ed

Some people are qualified to write op-eds for The Wall Street Journal on trade issues. Others tackle economic policy, politics or financial regulation. My op-ed, published in the June 27th Wall Street Journal, addressed the legal issues surrounding flying hotdogs caused by people in furry costumes. I know my limitations.

Here’s the backstory. Long-time readers of Coverage Opinions know that one of my all-time favorite cases is Coomer v. Kansas City Royals Baseball Club. The Kansas City Royals’s mascot, Sluggerr, an adorable furry lion, while standing on a dugout, tossed a hotdog – behind his back – into the stands. This was part of Sluggerrr’s between-innings hotdog launch. Unfortunately for Royals fan John Coomer, he chose the wrong moment to look at the scoreboard. The hotdog hit him in the eye. Coomer suffered a detached retina and needed eye surgeries. Litigation ensued.

In general terms, the issue at the heart of the case was this: Spectators at baseball games, seeking damages for injuries sustained by a foul ball, have a very difficult time recovering from the stadium operator. Courts, nearly across the board, have held that a baseball stadium operator is not liable for a foul ball injury as long as it screens the most dangerous part of the stadium and provides screened seats to as many spectators as may reasonably be expected to request them. Sluggerrr’s case raised the question whether this so-called “baseball rule” applies to an injury caused by a mascot.

Putting aside the details of a few years of litigation, the case made it all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court. In 2014 the high court of the Show Me State concluded that flying baseballs are not the same as flying hotdogs: “[I]f Coomer was injured by a risk that is an inherent part of watching the Royals play baseball, the team had no duty to protect him and cannot be liable for his injuries. But, if Coomer’s injury resulted from a risk that is not an inherent part of watching baseball in person—or if the negligence of the Royals altered or increased one of these inherent risks and caused Coomer’s injury—the jury is entitled to hold the Royals liable for such negligence[.]”

With that test set out, the court’s task was to answer whether being injured by a Sluggerrr-tossed hot dog was an “inherent risk” – which means involving the constitution or essential character -- of watching a Royals game in person. The court concluded that it is not. So Coomer could get his day in court. In a 2015 trial, the jury concluded that Sluggerrr was not at fault and neither was Mr. Coomer for looking at the scoreboard at the wrong time.

When it was reported not long ago that my beloved Phillie Phanatic’s between-innings hotdog launch injured a fan, when a frankfurter hit her in the face, I immediately put pen to paper and shipped off an op-ed submission to The Wall Street Journal. With the Sluggerrr case on the books, the Phanatic situation raised important legal issues – just as much as trade, economic policy, politics and financial regulation and all those other issues that appear on the paper’s opinion page. The world needed to know about this.

Hot dog – The Wall Street Journal published my effort. I hope you’ll check it out here:


Sluggerrr and the Phanatic doing legal research
Speaking of the Phillie Phanatic, he is clearly the smartest mascot in sports.
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