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Change of venue ordered in tractor pull injury suit

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A Somerset County farmer's claim that he was seriously injured and disabled at a popular East Huntingdon Township antique tractor pull almost two years ago will be heard in a Westmoreland County courtroom.

A personal injury suit filed a year ago by Douglas J. Hillegass, 56, and Debra A. Hillegass of Berlin against Paul Zitney, 70, of Vanderbilt after an accident on June 18, 2010, at the Zitney Tractor Pull was formally transferred Tuesday to Westmoreland Common Pleas Court in Greensburg.

Somerset County Judge David C. Klementik recently ordered a change of venue because the accident occurred at the Fort Allen Track near Scottdale in East Huntingdon Township.

The lawsuit describes Zitney, an antique farm equipment aficionada, as the promoter of the tractor pull.

About 10 p.m. on the evening of the event, Hillegass, who is acquainted with Zitney, was invited by Zitney to leave the stands, where he was a spectator, and go down to the event grounds where the tractors compete, according to the lawsuit.

Hillegass said he approached Zitney's tractor and sled as instructed and “was standing, facing and speaking with Mr. Zitney.”

“At this time, upon the direction of (Zitney), the tractor suddenly and without warning lurched forward ... with a tremendous amount of force and speed,” the lawsuit states.

Hillegass maintains in the lawsuit that the tractor and sled knocked him to the ground and ran over and crushed his lower legs.

The lawsuit maintains that Zitney “owed a duty of care to Hillegass to ensure his safety from foreseeable risks of harm.”

Hillegass noted that Zitney charged an admission fee for spectators to the event held on property used by the Fort Allen Antique Farm Equipment Association.

The lawsuit alleges that Hillegass required extensive surgery and hospitalization after the accident and still suffers pain, and “his general health, strength and vitality have been impaired.”

Debra Hillegass is seeking damages, according to the lawsuit filed by Hillegass' attorney, David L. Fuchs of Pittsburgh.

Zitney declined comment on the lawsuit Tuesday because it is still being litigated.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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