Lawsuits Seek Millions In Antique Tractor's Explosion

MEDINA, Ohio (AP) - Two lawsuits seek millions of dollars for the estate of a man who was killed and for three who were injured by an antique steam tractor explosion last year at the Medina County Fair.

Both lawsuits filed Thursday in Medina County Common Pleas Court say the 1908 Case 110 steam tractor was poorly maintained and that the defendants should have known of its dangers. The explosion killed five people and injured nearly 50 last July 29.

Bryan Hammond's estate is seeking $10 million or more. Hammond, 18, of Homerville, died six days after the explosion. He was in a pickup truck escorting the tractor to the fairgrounds.

A family of three people burned in the explosion also filed a lawsuit in the same court. Lodi residents Matthew S. Greenawalt, his wife, Catherine, and their son, James seek more than $3 million for their injuries.

The county fair board was named as a defendant in the Hammond lawsuit. A message seeking comment was left Friday at the office of the Medina County prosecutor, who represents county agencies on legal matters. Other defendants include the Medina County Agricultural Society and the company that allegedly manufactured a valve used on the tractor.

State and local investigations cited several causes for the explosion, including operator error. Investigators found that the explosion might have been averted had the steam engine been properly inspected.

In November, the wife of the tractor's owner, Clifford Kovacic, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Medina County Common Pleas Court against a Michigan man she said inspected the tractor for potential defects.

The excavating company owned by Kovacic was named as a defendant in the Hammond lawsuit. Attorney Kenneth Calderone, who represents the Kovacic family, said he had not seen the two new lawsuits and could not comment about it.

"It's no surprise that the suits have been filed, but those plaintiffs are not the only victims of the tragedy," Calderone said. He said Kovacic "will be cleared of any fault."

Dave Bertram, president of the fair board, said he was not sure how the lawsuits would affect his board or future fairs. Bertram said any steam-powered vehicles exhibited at the fair this year will be required to carry $1 million in liability insurance. None of the vehicles will be allowed to fire up a boiler at the fairgrounds.

Howard Yoder, a member of the Miami Valley Steam Threshers Association, said Thursday at the association's Steam Show and Reunion in Plain City that the explosion has been a focus of conversation.

"It definitely made people more aware. The guys around here are real careful. They've been doing this long enough," he said.

Before the explosion, there were no restrictions on who could operate a steam engine or what engine standards had to be met. Ohio legislators passed a bill last year to regulate the hobby. The legislation doesn't take effect until January, but event organizers said they've been voluntarily inspecting machines.

Doug Obert, director of the association, said his group has inspected all steam engines at its show this weekend. Some hobbyists were turned away Thursday because of suspected unsafe equipment.

"We've gone over the engines really good this year," he said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)