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Tragedy at a Pumpkin-Tossing Contest

WILMINGTON, Del. (CN) - A spotter suffered a broken back during the World Champion Punkin Chunkin contest, in which competitors toss pumpkins with air cannons, centrifuges and colossal catapults, the disabled man claims in court.

Daniel Fair and his wife sued The World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association and Wheatley Farms, which hosted the event in 2011, in New Castle County Court.

Fair worked for years as a volunteer for the contest, which raises money for charity, until he was injured during the contest on Nov. 25, 2011.

Every year since at least 2007, "tens of thousands" of people pay $10 a head to watch the contest "to determine whose homemade contraption can propel a pumpkin the farthest," according to the complaint. "The competition is divided into categories defined by the type of machine used; e.g., air cannons, centrifuges and colossal catapults.

"During the event, pumpkins are launched/chunked from a designated firing line into the designated landing zone whereupon Punkin Chunkin spotters quickly race in on ATVs to determine the approximate landing spot for each pumpkin, and thereby, convey that location to an official who determines an accurate measurement of the distance each pumpkin has traveled. After marking the approximate landing spot for each pumpkin, the spotters are then instructed to quickly return to the sidelines of the designated landing zone so that the next machine in line can chunk its pumpkin. As a result, the spotters are required to make numerous high speed ingresses and egresses from the landing zone each day to pinpoint the landing spots of numerous pumpkins and then return to the sidelines to avoid being struck by the next machine's chunk."

Fair says he was injured while "serving in his official capacity as a spotter." He was a volunteer, not an employee, and was paid one free meal and $150 for his expenses and the use of his ATV.

He was not smashed by a pumpkin. He was tossed from his own ATV at 30-35 mph while spotting "a recently chunked pumpkin."

The ATV struck a depression covered by grass and he and it went flying. The ATV landed on him, knocked him unconscious and broke his back, Fair says in the lawsuit.

He lost sensation below his chest, needed surgery and was hospitalized for nearly 11 weeks. Though partially recovered, he still suffers great medical disabilities and pain, uses a wheelchair, can use a walker only for short distances, lost his job on a tugboat, and has hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills.

He seeks medical expenses and damages for negligence and premises liability.

He is represented by Stephen Hampton with Grady & Hampton, of Dover.

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