2015 Punkin Chunkin Event Canceled - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

2015 Punkin Chunkin Event Canceled

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DOVER, Del.- For the second year in a row, Delaware's annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event has been canceled. Organizers said Thursday that this year's Punkin Chunkin, scheduled early next month at the Woodlands at Dover International Speedway, had to be canceled because of problems finding insurance coverage. 

"Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of our board throughout an exhaustive, nationwide search, we have been unable to locate a willing insurer to adequately protect our host venue, our organization, our fans and our spectators," organizers said in a statement posted Thursday morning on the World Championship Punkin Chunkin Facebook page.

"We cannot be more thankful for the efforts of our volunteers, the best efforts of our agents and the patience of our teams, our fans, our prospective hosts at Dover International Speedway, our vendors, and our sponsors through this difficult time."Organizers said customers who bought tickets to attend this year's Punkin Chunkin will have their credit card payments refunded in full within seven to 14 business days.

Last year's Punkin Chunkin event, which was to be held at Dover International Speedway, was also canceled. Organizers said they did not believe they could meet "certain standards" for the 2014 event. 

Punkin Chunkin, in which contestants launch pumpkins with a variety of homemade contraptions, began in Sussex County in 1986. The last year it was held was 2013 at the Wheatley Farm in Bridgeville, the event's home for seven years. However, after a multi-million dollar lawsuit was filed by a Punkin Chunkin volunteer who was seriously injured in an ATV accident while working the 2011 event, the farm's owner said the risk was too high to continue hosting the event.

After losing the Bridgeville site, Punkin' Chunkin' looked at more than 50 potential host locations, including Wicomico County, Md., and some locations not even on the Delmarva peninsula, before announcing Dover International Speedway as the new location.

Frank Payton, a member of the Punkin Chunkin Board, said holding the event at a place like the Woodlands, created more challenges with liabilities, than when it was at a farm.

"They're a corporate entity," he said. "When in the past, we were dealing with a lot of farmers. But with a corporate entity, they've got corporate assets that need to be protected."

Sen. Britan Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, whose 19th District also includes Bridgeville, said Thursday, "Obviously I'm disappointed. They thought they had overcome some of the hurdles of hosting the event with it being in Dover. But when tried to get event insured, they had a lot of difficulty doing that."

In January, Pettyjohn sponsored Senate Bill 14, which would have placed $1 million liability cap on pain and suffering damages levied against non-profit entities such as Punkin Chunkin. But the bill never made it out of committee. Democratic leaders in the committee voted against the measure, which also was opposed by the Delaware Trial Lawyers Association. However, Pettyjohn said he thinks if the bill had been passed, it could have made it easier for Punkin Chunkin organizers to get insurance.  

"With a non-profit liability cap," he said. "There at least would have been a maximum amount that would have been awarded for the pain and suffering, in case something did happen."

But for now, Pettyjohn is having his doubts if Punkin Chunkin will be held again in Delaware.

"I'm feeling this could be it, unless we make some statutory changes for events like this," he said.

He said Punkin Chunkin organizers could choose to move the event to another state, such as Maryland, which has a general liability cap in place. With that in mind, Pettyjohn said this coming legislative session he will renew a push to get his bill out of the Senate Executive Committee "so that an organization that contributed over $100,000 to charities, awarded over $50,000 in scholarships to Delaware students, and had an estimated $15 million economic impact can continue to operate in Delaware.”

Like Pettyjohn, members of the general public are also disappointed that Punkin Chunkin was canceled. When news of the cancellation was posted on WBOC's Facebook page, Bonnie Kohler wrote, "Sorry to hear this, it was such a sight to see."

"Should have left it in Sussex County," wrote Shelly Waples. 

"Sad very sad! That nobody will or wants to insure a Delaware tradition. Wow!" wrote Scott Gregoire.

"The first year I'm actually able to go and THIS happens," wrote Patricia Abrams.

Another commenter, Melissa Boyer, wrote, "Insurance!!!! That's it??? What a poor excuse. They had [two] years to get that lined up. One of the first things you do before you even announce hosting an event."

But another commenter, Meg Hawkins Berns wrote, "They could not find anyone to insure them. Don't blame organizers they have been working hard no one will insure!! Such a shame a national recognized event and something finally good to happen and now it is done."

Rick Dickerson, owner of Dickerson Farms in Laurel, Del., grows the pumpkins used at Punkin Chunkin. He told WBOC the roughly 5,000-7,000 pumpkins sold for the event account for roughly 5 percent of his pumpkin business. 

"In the big scheme of things, it's a small portion of our business," Dickerson said. "It's not going to shut us down but it hurts."  

As far as Punkin Chunkin's future is concerned, organizers said, "We are actively seeking alternatives as we move forward.” They did not provide specifics. 

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