Seven years after legal action was filed against the Lorain County Fair, the case is getting ready to go to trial.
Kim Meyers, who heads the senior fair board, told its members last Tuesday that a final pretrial hearing is coming up on July 31.
An incident that led plaintiff Craig Hignett to file a complaint with the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas happened in August 2006 and involved former fair board director Tom Denes. The Lorain County Agricultural Society, which runs the fair, was named in the suit.
During the early morning hours on Aug. 27, Hignett and fellow garbage detailer Michael Schaffer met up with Denes and his then-girlfriend Kelly Schwarz, the court documents say.
The group had been drinking and were riding a John Deere Gator, a small utility vehicle that resembles a pickup truck, around the motocross course where moguls for bike jumping had been built. The Gator has only two seats, so Hignett and Schaffer were riding in the cargo bed.
The suit claims Denes drove the vehicle for the first trip on the track and Schwarz drove the second time, although both were aware non-directors were prohibited from driving fair equipment. While driving on the course, Schwarz hit a mogul and threw Hignett from the vehicle, causing his serious back injury.
It wasn’t until nearly two years later in August 2008 that Hignett filed his complaint.
Meyers said part of what’s made the case take so long is that it was dismissed back in 2013 and the plaintiff didn’t refile until another year later.
The trial date is now set for Aug. 13, which Meyers said is a horrible time for the fair board since the fair is set to begin Aug. 24.
But since the case has been pending for so long, Meyers doubts it will actually go to trial next month.
“It’s unlikely that it’ll probably go in August because of our circumstances and as long as the case has been pending they probably will be considerate to the fair board and say, ‘Hey, we can set this sometime later in the fall and if the case doesn’t get settled you can come in at that point in time,’” he said.
Other than that, Meyers said the plaintiffs have materials that still need to be submitted for the case and isn’t sure they’ll be ready in August.
The trial date also depends on the judge’s docket and how many cases he has to hear. Meyers said criminal cases, regardless of when they were filed, have precedence over civil cases.
The case could also be resolved at the pretrial hearing, which would eliminate the need for a trial.
But regardless of when and if the case goes to trial, Meyers isn’t convinced of the plaintiff’s claims.
“I do not believe it’s a solid case and that’s based on what information I know,” he said. “I don’t know what the ultimate outcome will be but based on those attorneys that are assigned through the insurance company and their reports to us I think they believe it’s not a meritorious case.”
Meyers also noted that when the incident occurred it was after hours when the fair was closed.
“It’s just one of those situations where he made those decisions on his own,” he said. “(Denes) was not acting as a director on our behalf at the time, but we were named and brought into the lawsuit because it happened on our property and he happened to be a fair board director, but he wasn’t working for us at the time.”
Meyers doesn’t believe the fair board did anything wrong and is hopeful the case will be dismissed.
In the event the judge or jury does side with Hignett, Meyers said they’ll be prepared.
“We’ve always made sure that we have policies and procedures in place to protect us,” he said. “We believe we had them then and we have them now.”
Meyers said he and the board are confident they’ll be able to go through this process without missing a beat.
“We’ve got a very good board, a great tradition here, a lot of good volunteers and support, and it’s very well attended,” he said. “It’s one of the best in the sate of Ohio. My goal and I know our entire board’s goal is to continue that tradition.”
Kelsey Leyva can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @TWE_KelseyLeyva on Twitter.
Kelsey Leyva | Wellington Enterprise Senior fair board president Kim Meyers sits in the board meeting room on Thursday, June 16.