Settlement reached in lengthy lawsuit against Lorain County Fair board

By Kelsey Leyva -

After seven years of litigation, a suit over an early morning crash on the Lorain County Fairgrounds has been settled.

A jury trial Monday was canceled when lawyers for both sides agreed to an as-yet unreleased payout, senior fair board Kim Meyers told Lorain County Agricultural Society directors Oct. 13.

“I thought it would go this way,” he said. “It’s a favorable resolution for the fair board.”

During the early morning hours on Aug. 27, 2006, plaintiff Craig Hignett and fellow garbage detailer Michael Schaffer met with former fair board director Tom Denes and his then-girlfriend Kelly Schwarz, according to court documents.

The group had been drinking and were riding a John Deere Gator, a small utility vehicle with a bed like a pick-up truck, around the motocross course where moguls had been built for jumping.

Denes and Schwarz took turns driving while Hignett and Shaffer rode in the cargo bed.

The suit claims Schwarz was driving the vehicle even though both she and Denes knew non-directors were prohibited from driving fair equipment.

While on the course, Schwarz hit a mogul and threw Hignett from the vehicle, causing him serious back injury, according to court papers.

Hignett filed a complaint with the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas in August 2008, nearly two years after the incident. That original complaint was dismissed in 2013 and he didn’t refile until another year later, which contributed to the case’s lengthy timeline.

Monday marks the filing deadline for a case dismissal entry, which will specify which parties have to pay what amounts in the settlement.

“We’re obviously really happy to have it behind us and we’re read to move forward,” Meyers said.

Other defendants named in the case include Kelly Schwarz-Denes, Polen Implement, Nationwide Insurance and Allstate Insurance.

Tom Denes was initially a part of the suit. He died in a motorcycle crash in 2010 at age 54.

Meyers said the fair board will continue to create, discuss, and reinforce the rules put in place to keep fairgoers safe.

“Safety is always a main concern of the fair board,” he said. “Unfortunately we can’t control what everyone does.”

Kelsey Leyva can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @TWE_KelseyLeyva on Twitter.

By Kelsey Leyva