A woman who was severely injured last year during a pumpkin-launching competition sued the event’s organizers, participants, state officials and Discovery Communications Inc. for negligence Monday.
In the federal lawsuit, Suzanne Dakessian said that safety lapses at the Punkin Chunkin contest contributed to the accident, which sent a large hunk of metal crashing down on her head. The incident, Dakessian said, left her with permanent injuries, including partial blindness and damage to her left arm. She also said she was in a coma for a time.
The defendants include the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, which is responsible for issuing boiler certificates and inspecting pressure vessels on giant air guns at the competition in Bridgeville.
Dakessian was covering the event for Discovery Science Channel when, late in the contest’s last day, a trapdoor exploded off of a giant air gun called the Pumpkin Reaper, sending a trapdoor “the size of a car door” flying through the air.
At the time, Dakessian was standing within a 75-foot perimeter reserved for contestants, staff and the media. She alleged that there was no protective netting or other barriers in place.
The event was quickly shut down, and the Discovery special never aired.
Delaware State Police had initially reported that Dakessian died in the accident, but she was later flown from Wheatley Farms in Sussex County to Christiana Medical Center’s Level I trauma center, where she was stabilized in critical condition. Dakessian said she was in a coma “for an extensive period of time” and had to undergo emergency surgery to remove part of her skull due to swelling.
“As a sole proximate result of the catastrophic injuries suffered by plaintiff, she has been incapacitated from her employment and will be so incapacitated in the future with a resultant loss therefrom,” Dakessian said in a 43-page complaint.
She is asking for damages for past and future pain and suffering, as well as compensatory and punitive damages in a jury trial. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, accused the Pumpkin Reaper’s operators, William Schell and Dominick Daffner, and event organizers of negligence and strict liability for ultrahazardous activity.
Dakessian also accused the DNREC of negligence and gross negligence for failing to inspect the gun.
According to The News Journal, this is the second lawsuit to stem from the Punkin Chunkin competition. In 2013, an ATV driver who was seriously hurt in a crash sued the organizers, though that case was later dismissed.
Dakessian’s case, captioned Dakessian v. Schell, has not yet been assigned to a judge. Dakessian is represented by David W. deBruin of The deBruin Firm in Wilmington.