He stands 6’ 8”, has an 86” waist, a long snout and is a plaintiff lawyer’s dream. Who is he? None other than the Phillie Phanatic, also dubbed the most sued mascot in major league sports. And he’s at it again.
A suburban Philadelphia woman recently filed a lawsuit claiming the Phanatic got a little too rough during a comic routine when he picked her up – while she was sitting poolside in a lounge chair – and tossed both her and the chair into the pool. The antics occurred at a pre-wedding party in 2010. The plaintiff claims she suffered injuries to virtually every part of her body, including “severe and permanent injuries to her head, neck, back, body, arms and legs, bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and tissues…”
This isn’t the first time the Phanatic, who debuted in 1978, has been sued, either for activities he engaged in at the ballpark or in one of the approximately 300 public appearances he makes annually. The Phanatic has a history of litigation stretching back decades. In a 2002 article in the Cardozo Law Review, Bob Jarvis detailed several suits against the Phanatic, including a jury award for $2.5 million to a man who suffered back injuries after being hugged too hard by the Phanatic at the 1994 opening of a paint store; a pregnant woman who was awarded $25,000 after she was accidentally kicked in the stomach by the Phanatic at a 1993 Phillies game; and a retired bus driver who won a judgment for $128,000 after the Phanatic knocked him over at a 1991 church carnival. And those are just some of the jury verdicts against the Phanatic. They don’t include any settlements that may have been made by the furry creature’s insurance company.
The Phanatic isn’t the only mascot who has been involved in litigation. The Famous Chicken has been involved in his share of lawsuits. In one memorable action, TFC was sued by a Chicago Bulls cheerleader he tackled during a gig in 1991, resulting in a judgment for $300,000.
In 2006, New Orleans Saints quarterback Adrian McPherson sued Tennessee Titans mascot T-Rac for $20 million after the oversized raccoon ran over him with a golf cart during halftime of a pre-season game. The case was resolved outside the courtroom and because McPherson never made the Saints – or any other NFL roster - it’s doubtful the settlement approached the amount claimed in damages.
Kansas City Royals mascot Sluggerrr the Lion was sued for hitting a fan in the eye during a free hot dog promotion at a game in 2009. The plaintiff, John Coomer, asked for $200,000 in damages after undergoing three surgeries for a detached retina, claiming the team “failed to adequately train its agents… in the proper method in which to throw hot dogs in the stands…” After deliberating for an hour, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Royals, although the man in the Sluggerrr costume was fired after the incident.
Burnie, the Miami Heat mascot, once got into hot water during an exhibition game in Puerto Rico when he pulled the wife of a local federal judge out of the stands and included her in his on- court dance routine. The woman injured herself when she fell and sued Burnie for a million dollars. He was also charged with aggravated assault and faced a prison sentence of 20 years. The case was ultimately settled for $50,000 and the criminal charge was dismissed.
T-shirt guns are all the rage at sporting events, but they are accidents waiting to happen. Florida Marlins mascot Billy the Marlin was sued for $250,000 when an elderly fan claimed he was knocked unconscious by a T-shirt launched from Billy’s air-cannon. A jury found Billy was not negligent after evidence indicated the fan was injured not by the flying T-shirt, but during the frantic scramble for the T-shirt after it fell to the ground.
Sports teams are constantly seeking ways to both attract fans to the event and to keep them entertained during the contest. Mascots are a tried and true way to do that. Players come and go, but the mascot is a constant, both in-season and out. But as the Phillie Phanatic and other mascots have proven, the rewards are not without risks.
Jordan Kobritz is a staff member of the Business of Sports Network. He is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University and teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming. He looks forward to your comments and can be contracted, here.
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