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MERIDEN — Organizers have canceled this year’s Christmas in the Village event, held annually in South Meriden, after liability issues arose through a recent lawsuit.
The city was named as a defendant in a lawsuit, along with a Christmas in the Village vendor who offered free horse-drawn carriage rides, after a man fell while trying to board the carriage at the 2012 event. City officials, however, claimed the city’s insurance policy does not cover Christmas in the Village and filed an apportionment that would tie the Council of Neighborhoods into the lawsuit.
“We decided this year we were not doing anything with the festival and not setting up the wreaths or flags (on the lamp posts) because we weren’t backed by anybody,” said Aprill Ouellette, co-chairwoman of the event committee. “It feels like we were thrown under the bus.”
Suffield resident Gerald Kane claims in the lawsuit he was invited to the 2012 event as a guest of Bradley Hurlbert. Hurlbert and his wife Kimberly Hurlbert were hired by Larry Prescott, who is also a defendant, to run the horse-drawn carriage rides, according to the suit. As the event was coming to a close, Kane alleges that he tried climbing back into the elevated carriage area, where he had been sitting with Bradley Hurlbert for most of the day, and fell.
Kane continued, claiming that the horses had become “restless” from a long day and were not under control, causing him to fall. When he did, the horses moved forward, running him over with the carriage and causing several injuries including punctured lungs and broken bones.
The Hurlberts and Kane could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The lawsuit claims the city hired the Hurlberts and was negligent on multiple accounts. The city’s insurance company hired Hartford-based law firm Howd and Ludorf for the case. In order to “protect the city’s interests,” Corporation Counsel Michael Quinn said the Council of Neighborhoods and Christmas in the Village Committee were tied into the lawsuit.
“The Council of Neighborhoods, Inc. ... organized, sponsored, scheduled, supervised, managed, conducted, and/or controlled the ‘Christmas in the Village’ event...” the city’s apportionment filing stated.
Ouellette and Council of Neighborhoods President Holly Wills, who is also on the Christmas in the Village Committee, said they were under the impression the event has been co-sponsored by the city and all Council of Neighborhoods events and Christmas in the Village were covered by the city’s insurance policy.
“It’s very sad that it’s not going on this year, we’ve been holding it for 15 years,” Wills said. “I guess we were misinformed about the insurance. Based on what we are hearing recently, we never had insurance for Christmas in the Village. Had we known, we would have taken care of it ... We thought the city sponsored this with us too.”
City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior said the city has provided police and parks department employees to help with the event. He added that Council of Neighborhood events are now covered under the city’s insurance policy, but they were not prior to recent months. Because some members of the Christmas in the Village Committee and Council of Neighborhoods overlap, Kendzior said the two entities were lumped together. Wills noted the Council of Neighborhoods is trying to absolve itself from the lawsuit, but if it cannot, it will likely have to secure an attorney in the case.
Although the Christmas in the Village festival has been supported by a committee that fundraises on its own, Ouellette said organizers always believed the committee was covered by the city. Without insurance, committee members do not plan to put up American flags for the summer or wreaths and lights during the holiday season.
“What if somebody falls from a ladder or someone gets hurt?” she asked.
Ouellette added that the event could be held in the future, possibly in 2015, but the event is canceled for this year.
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