Jury clears Royals once again in Sluggerrr hot dog toss that ended badly

Sluggerrr posed with actress Hayley Atwell before a recent game at Kauffman Stadium.
Sluggerrr posed with actress Hayley Atwell before a recent game at Kauffman Stadium. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

Sometimes, no one is to blame.

It wasn’t Sluggerrr’s fault that a hot dog tossed from the mascot’s paw hit a spectator in the face during a 2009 Royals game, a Jackson County jury decided Wednesday.

Nor was it the fault of John Coomer, the fan who was looking at the scoreboard instead of Sluggerrr as the foil-encased dog headed his way, the jury ruled after a two-day trial in Kansas City.

Coomer, who suffered a detached retina in his left eye, now has lost two jury trials over the injury. He sued the Royals claiming negligence in 2010. The next year, the first jury found him 100 percent at fault.

But after Coomer appealed, the case returned to court this week, where jurors once again listened to testimony from the fan, the mascot and medical experts.

This time the jury found that neither the Royals nor Coomer was at fault.

Coomer said the verdict disappointed him, especially since his injury has generated about $16,000 in medical expenses.

“I was injured at the game, by their hand, and I was hoping that I could get at least my medical expenses taken care of,” he said.

But Coomer added that he knew his case was being tried in context of a national dialogue regarding what’s often called the “baseball rule.” That legal theory, in place for about a century, presumes an inherent risk among those attending a baseball game, and assigns fans responsibility for paying attention and being prepared for the occasional ball or bat coming their way.

Usually that theory is reserved for the balls or bats, and not for a between-innings promotion.

“I think the argument in court was my level of responsibility of paying attention,” Coomer said.

Coomer testified that he attended the September 2009 game with his father, and that both had been looking at the scoreboard for out-of-town scores, and not at the hot dog launch. During that promotion, the Royals’ mascot shot foil-wrapped hot dogs toward fans with an air-gun device or threw them to fans.

“We have a beautiful new stadium with a lot of things to look at,” Coomer said. “We were looking at the scoreboard and ribbon boards. I understand what happens within a game, during the course of action, with bats and balls. This has nothing to do with that.”

He is not advocating that the hot dog launch be retired, Coomer added.

“I just think they could be done responsibly.”

During the trial, Byron Shores, who portrayed Sluggerrr for about 14 years, said he had met previously with his boss regarding the promotion and that the boss had wanted to see “more arc” on some of his throws, depending on how far away the fans were. Shores agreed with Bob Tormohlen, the attorney for Coomer, that the hot dog toss that resulted in the alleged eye injury was a “no-look, behind-the back” throw.

Shores was just trying to do his job, Coomer said Wednesday.

“Hey, I’m a big guy,” he said. “I played sports, but when things come at you that you don’t expect or don’t anticipate or didn’t ask for, I think its a little unfair for me to have to react to that, that’s all.”

Tormohlen hoped the trial “sent a message” to Major League Baseball.

“We always viewed this as a case of fan safety,” Tormohlen said. “If baseball teams are going to have their employees throwing things to their fans, it’s been our position all along that they should do so in a careful manner, which didn’t happen in this case.”

Coomer said that he did not intend to bring any more lawsuits on the matter.

Scott Hofer, the attorney who represented the Royals, could not be reached for comment.

Jury rules Royals mascot Sluggerrr and spectator John Coomer were not at fault for the eye injury Coomer received when the mascot tossed a hot dog into the stands during a game.

To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to bburnes@kcstar.com.