2015 Punkin Chunkin canceled

DOVER — For the second straight year, pumpkins will not fly in Delaware.

On Thursday morning, the World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association announced the 2015 event scheduled for Nov. 7-8 in Dover was canceled.

The organization said it could not “locate a willing insurer to adequately protect our host venue, our organization, our fans and our spectators” in its statement.

Prior to its 2014 cancellation, Punkin Chunkin had been held in Sussex County annually since 1986.

The organizers have been trying to get a new start at Dover International Speedway.

“It is with a heavy heart that we announce the cancellation of the 2015 World Championship Punkin Chunkin event,” organizers said in a statement posted on Facebook Thursday morning. “Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of our Board throughout an exhaustive, nation-wide search, we have been unable to locate a willing insurer to adequately protect our host venue, our organization, our fans and our spectators.”

After the 2013 event, the organization we sued by a volunteer injured on an ATV during the event at a Bridgeville farm.

Last year’s event didn’t go off as planned simply because there were too details to work out in a short amount of time.

“Since there was only a month to go, we had already done a lot of work,” Gary Camp, Senior Director of Communications at Dover International Speedway said. “We collectively decided that we should have everything in place at least a month before the event and the time came and they hadn’t been able to secure insurance yet,”

In an attempt to protect events like Punkin Chunkin and ensure their return to the state, Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, drafted legislation that would cap select damages. The bill. which has not been addressed in the legislature, created a special category for certain events hosted by nonprofits like the Apple Scrapple Festival, the Delaware State Fair and the Riverwalk Festival.

Most injuries suffered in the course of these events would be limited in the non-economic damages the victim could claim, except in cases of gross negligence or intentional acts. Punitive and economic claims like medical bills and lost wages would be unaffected.

The limit would start at $1 million. Unfortunately, the bill never made it out of committee before the end of the last legislative session but Sen. Pettyjohn said Thursday he hopes to get the bill released from committee once the legislative session resumes in January.

While opposition torpedoed the proposal in April, he remains skeptical of claims a cap would make events less safe. Maryland, for instance, has a liability cap, he said. Punkin Chunkin organizers would likely have more success finding an insurer if there was a limit to damages.

Sen. Pettyjohn was surprised by the cancellation announcement.

“It’s a big deal. It’s a big deal,” he said. “They truly give back to the community and the community benefits form the event and losing it, it’s heartbreaking.”

That loss, he said, especially hurts Sussex County, where the event started and was held for decades.

“Certainly the legislation wouldn’t have hurt us, but we aren’t clairvoyant, we don’t know whether we would be in a different position now had the legislation gone through,” Ricky Nietubicz, president of World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association said. “Right now we are exploring all options.”

Although exploring other options includes not only insurance possibilities, but different venues as well, Mr. Camp said the speedway would be open to working with the organizers in 2016.

“It’s hard to know what will happen, the announcement is only hours old,” Mr. Nietubicz said. “But we do know this stings for our fans, teams and everyone who has been involved including our charities and scholarships which we’ve been able to raise more than $1 million for over the years.”

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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